Obama to Immigrant Children: Detention, Deportations, Ripping Apart Families

June 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Elva Marroquin left her impoverished Guatemalan home, traveling to El Norte to live and work in California. But she had to leave her children, 10-year-old Angel and seven-year-old Dulce, behind. Finally she saved enough money to have the two children try to make the perilous journey across Mexico to the U.S. hoping that her family would finally be united and stable. Angel and Dulce left their home over a month ago in the hopes of reaching their mother. But they were taken into custody by the Border Patrol immediately after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. The children called her two weeks ago—they were tired, frightened, and hungry. Marroquin told a reporter "My children were heartbroken, sad, tearful, crying beyond comparison, begging me to take them out of there. Their begging was so distressing because I couldn't run to get them." Elva Marroquin still doesn't know when that will be, or what the fate of her children will be if and when her family finally reunites.

Young boy in detention cell in Nogales, Arizona. Photo: AP

Another woman, from El Salvador, told CNN how her 12-year-old son Henry and nine-year-old daughter Estefania left El Salvador in December with their grandmother. A grandmother took them to the Rio Grande and paid thousands of dollars to a coyote (smuggler) in the hope that he could get them safely across the river. In January the woman, who lives in California, received a call from Henry, who was in the custody of an immigration official somewhere in Texas. The official allowed the mother to speak with her son. "All I told my son is to calm down, that everything will be okay. Then the call got cut off, and they didn't call me back." She said she doesn't know the whereabouts or well-being of her children.

Imagine thousands of people like Elva Marroquin, agonizing over the fate of their children in the custody of U.S. immigration officials. Then you will begin to have a picture of the horrible and infuriating crisis unfolding on the U.S.-Mexico border.

As accounts of this situation make it into the news, many people in this country have been shocked at the sights of so many desperate, exhausted children, and tried to find ways to provide them with life's basic needs and a warm embrace. In contrast to this, the powers-that-be have greeted them with cruelty and repression. Warehoused for days in filthy and crowded detention centers designed to hold adults for short periods; locked in windowless corridors without seats; sleeping in shifts on concrete floors and sharing portable toilets with dozens of others in the same area they all eat; put on buses in the middle of the night and hours later dumped off at bus stations in cities they are completely unfamiliar with across the Southwest.

An inspection of a Texas detention center concluded "children in this area sat, slept and ate on the floor with no cots in temperatures that reached 100 degrees."

The United States government and its system of capitalism-imperialism are inflicting great crimes upon the people of Central America, especially the children. 52,000 immigrant children trying to enter the U.S., many escaping extreme poverty, repression, and gang conflicts, and trying to reunite with their families, have been taken into custody in the first eight months of this fiscal year, and the numbers grow daily. 39,000 or so mothers and children have crossed the border in the last few months. Another 90,000 women and children are expected to cross the border in the next few months.

The migration of tens of thousands of impoverished, desperate children has triggered what Barack Obama and other political leaders have had to admit is a humanitarian crisis. This crisis engulfs South Texas and is sending shockwaves through the entire Southwestern U.S., echoing into Mexico and beyond. But these ruling class figures—of all stripes—are not taking responsibility for this crisis. Instead, they are blaming, persecuting, and clamping down on the victims of the workings of their system that have driven people to the desperate measure of sending their unaccompanied children on a perilous trek to what they hope will be safety.

Expediting and Concentrating Repression

On Tuesday, June 24, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson presented to Congress the Obama administration's "13 point plan" as its comprehensive response to this crisis. Johnson told Congress the U.S. is "taking no lawful option off the table."

A centerpiece of the Obama/Johnson plan is sending more Border Patrol agents to South Texas, and leaving open the option to send hundreds more. It also calls for more detention centers, more "processing centers" for youth apprehended by the Border Patrol, additional legal staffing, and more Spanish-speaking employees to be sent to South Texas. The purpose of all this is to "create more detention space for families caught at the border and to accelerate cases through immigration courts, hoping to stem a growing tide of migration from Central America."

As part of this, a new center has been set up to detain 700 people, adults and children, at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico. One of Johnson's top assistants said that the Obama administration is "actively pursuing additional capacity" for detention. Johnson also has announced plans to begin using electronic tracking bracelets on children and others detained by the Border Patrol.

Obama supporters in Congress have argued that measures such as ankle bracelets on children are "humane and cost effective." Congressman Henry Cuellar, who is from the border town of Laredo, Texas, said the administration is setting up a "one stop shop" along the border "where the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Justice would work jointly to process, adjudicate and, if warranted, remove the immigrants quickly."

The federal government is temporarily re-assigning immigration judges, attorneys, and asylum officials to the Rio Grande Valley. They are part of the Obama administration's plan to be able to hear many more cases right in the Valley area, and deport people from there before they get further into the U.S. interior. Adults from Central America who are caught by the Border Patrol are usually put into an "expedited removal" process, which means the government doesn't have to bring them before a judge before deporting them.

The same "expedited" process of deportation is used for children from Central America caught and detained with their parents. But the government is prohibited by federal law from fast-tracking the deportation of unaccompanied children. This legal prohibition contributed to the almost unbelievably malicious practice of loading children detained in South Texas onto buses and dropping them off at public bus stops in distant cities, especially Phoenix, Arizona.

13 Points of Repression

At the same time, Jeh Johnson was announcing the 13-point Obama program, Vice President Joe Biden made a blitz series of arm-twisting visits to the presidents of Mexico and Central America. Biden had three goals for his trip: compelling Mexico to detain and deport many more of the Central Americans attempting to cross Mexico and reach the U.S.; initiating a massive publicity campaign in Central America that would "fight the widespread belief in Central America that children and families will be allowed to stay in the U.S."; offering money to the three Central American countries for "youth outreach centers" supposedly intended to "reduce gang membership," but more to the repressive point, for the "expedited prosecution" of alleged gang members.

Anthony Wayne, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, summed up the overall message of Biden's trip: "All who enter the United States without proper immigration status are subject to deportation proceedings." In an interview on June 27, Obama himself made this explicitly clear, while once again expressing his phony humanitarian concern for the children, and directing the blame for the children's dire situation away from the system he heads. He told ABC News that "our message absolutely is don't send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. That is our direct message to families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll be sent back. More importantly, they may not make it."

Busloads of people are being forcibly returned by Mexico to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador every day. Hundreds more arrive daily at an airport outside the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, deported from the U.S. A June 26 report in the San Antonio Express-News described how the day before, "13 buses from Mexico were scheduled to arrive in San Pedro, [the country's] second largest city and near the Guatemalan border. For the past week or so, about 500 people a day are deported from Mexico back to the Honduran city. A Honduran official said we've never experienced anything like this before."

Much attention in the U.S. has focused on the supposedly widespread belief in Central America that children and women who enter the U.S. will be given "permisos" (permits) and be able to stay. In fact, radio, television, and newspaper outlets in Mexico and Central America have been flooded with dire warnings that people should not attempt to go to the U.S. Christina Gonzalez, a reporter for the Fox News station in Los Angeles, said: "I don't see anywhere any report telling people to send their kids over. Quite the opposite, they are warning people not to do so, it is not a good idea."

Cruel Repression

Rick Perry, the Christian fascist governor of Texas, has authorized $1.3 million a week for the rest of 2014 to send Texas Rangers and other law enforcement to the border to "combat the flood of illegal immigrants into the state in the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the border." John Boehner, the leading Republican in Congress, has called for the National Guard to be deployed along the border; Dan Patrick, another powerful Christian fascist from Texas, recently told the big lie that immigrant children are bringing "third world diseases" into Texas, and demanded more "boots on the ground" to deal with the situation.

Leading Democrats share the same basic goals: stopping the flow of Central American children into the U.S. and sending the overwhelming majority of the immigrants back to their homelands. Hillary Clinton, after expressing what she characterized as her "concerns" for the children, in a recent interview concluded that "we have to send a clear message: just because your child crosses the border, that doesn't mean your child gets to stay."

For the capitalist-imperialist system and its political representatives, there is no easy resolution to this crisis. A cornerstone of U.S. imperialism's dominant status in the world is its brutal exploitation and vicious repression in countries to its south; essential to the profitable functioning of this system is the wealth it extracts from millions of immigrants, legal and "illegal," in the U.S. This country lashes out at and has continually suppressed thousands of children; yet seeks to present itself to the world as the champion of democracy and the downtrodden of the world.

The crisis gripping Central America and Mexico and pulsing into the U.S. is deep. The fevered efforts by the ruling class to somehow contain and suppress this crisis reflect real concern that it could spin out of their control and become something much more damaging to their interests—to their system; and their differences over how best to contain this crisis could burst into even sharper conflict among them.

All this poses sharp challenges to people building the movement for revolution, and for anyone who wants an end to a world where anyone suffers as the children of Central America have. As we wrote in last week's Revolution:

"The suffering these children are enduring is a tragedy and a catastrophe. And unnecessary! It is a product—in many different ways—of the capitalist-imperialist system. And it is a burning testament to the need to make revolution as soon as possible, and put an end to the system that perpetrates such abominations....

"All the youths and children who make it to the U.S. must be treated humanely and compassionately; whenever possible, they must be reunited with family members as soon as possible. They must be given all necessary medical treatment, and put in a caring, loving environment. They must be provided with education, and they must never be deported."


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