On CBS This Morning, a report by Camilo Montoya-Calvez revealed that “hundreds of parents who were separated from their kids at the U.S.-Mexico border remain ‘unreachable.’" This began with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy separating children from parents of more than 1,000 migrant families. The policy was meant to deter those migrants coming to the southern border of the U.S. for asylum or work or both. Judge Dana Sabraw of the U.S. District Court in San Diego ended the practice in June 2018.
The report states that “advocates have been unable to reach the parents of 545 children who were separated by U.S. immigration authorities at the southern border and who could be eligible for court-mandated reunifications, according to a joint legal filing by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Justice Department.” Many of the children are with relatives, but it is possible they may never see their parents again.
In 2018, there was a network news broadcast that included a recording of a border guard talking to isolated preschool Latino children and demanding why they were crying. While working as a day care instructor, I remember well how 3-year-olds panicked when their parents dropped them off in the mornings, even after a routine had been established. I always began by putting on the Beatles song, “Help,” and the delighted kids would run in a circle. There was always "Sesame Street" and the events we had planned to fill the day, but morning separations remained hard for the children.
When I worked for a rescue organization known as Traveler’s Aid in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, they used me to help with the children of the neighborhood residents — the so-called “street people.” The Tenderloin was and remains dangerous. A decoy cop posing as a passed out drunk and hoping to arrest muggers was shot and killed on my first day. When the local people, many ravaged by drugs and poverty, discovered I was working at the day care, I had a safer passage through the crime-filled neighborhood.
One thing that never changed, however, was the fear every child demonstrated when they were dropped off. “I want my mommy” was a repeated mantra. Even after a month of daily routines, the children expressed a fear of abandonment until they were reassured.
I can easily imagine the terror of those Latino migrant children in detention centers arriving after a dangerous journey only to lose their parents in a country where they didn’t even speak the language. One can also understand the anxiety of parents losing their children.
Some families were reunited, but Judge Sabraw authorized advocacy groups to track down the hundreds of parents who were deported without their children. In October 2019, the U.S. government revealed the “zero tolerance” program in El Paso, Texas, separated an additional 1,556 children from their parents between the summer of 2017 and June 2018. The committee located the parents of 485 of these children, but the group Justice in Motion in Mexico and Central America are now stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though doubtful, some of these children may prosper and even become American citizens. It is uncertain if the “unreachable" parents will ever be reunited with their children, and would the children want to return to a county where street gangs rule the neighborhoods?
"Sadly we are still looking for hundreds of families who were separated years ago and will not stop until we find all of them," Lee Gelernt, the top ACLU attorney in the case, told CBS News. "Some of these children were only babies when ripped away from their parents."
Every administration can make terrible mistakes. President Roosevelt ordered the detention of Japanese Americans after war was declared on Japan, falsely assuming Japanese American citizens might be disloyal. This “zero tolerance” policy may be a dark moment in the Trump administration that will have devastating effects for years to come.
Michael Corrigan graduated from San Francisco State with an Master of Arts degree in English and creative writing. He was active in theater and attended the American Film Institute. He retired from Idaho State University as an instructor of English and speech communications. He has written several books, including “Confessions of a Shanty Irishman,” “Mulligan” and “These Precious Hours.” NPR broadcast his play for two readers: “Letters from Rebecca.”