Concentration Camps for Kids


Recently the US Inspector General issued a report on the crisis on the border.  That report found “dilapidated, dirty and unsafe conditions” in some American family detention centres where asylum claimants are being housed. There have been 6 recent deaths of children at these facilities in less than a year. Now it is a fact that children die. It is also a difficult task to house the children and keep them safe. But this shouldn’t happen.

Taking care of migrating children is now a billion dollar industry in the United States. Interestingly, it is dominated by 1 Non-governmental Organization that conducts the Southwest Key program.

The US government holds tens of thousands of immigrants in detention under the control of Customs and Border Protection (‘CBP’) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (‘ICE’).

According to Nicholas Kulish, an investigative journalist with the New York Times“This Non-profit” is actually a money making machine.”  He reported that their CEO was paid a salary of $1.5 million per year while their CFO earned $1million per year.

Unfortunately, at the same time as these executives were earning handsome sums, children at the border in detention centres served by Southwest Key Programs were getting sub-par food, clothing and shelter. The L.A. Times called these facilities “concentration camps.” That is rather inflammatory language.

Dr. Scott Allan of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States was more measured in his language, but his words were still chilling. He became a whistle blower. It was his job to inspect family residential centres run by the Department of Homeland Security. Many of these are operated by private contractors. Typically in those facilities minors were not alone but were accompanied by an adult, often a parent or sometimes 2 parents.  The facilities he inspected were different from centres without parental accompaniment.

According to Dr. Allan, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on PBS, “The medical community is united in opposition to housing minor children this way. Decades of research have shown that such detention is harmful to both their mental and physical health.”

Nicholas Kulish also interviewed by Amanpour,  added that the Trump administration, led by Sessions, was a government running from crisis to crisis without a comprehensive plan. The Trump administration was quick to back off when the public cried out.

Dr. Allan and his fellow inspectors of these detention centers were concerned since the first of such facilities was established by President Obama. Not Trump!

According to Dr. Allan, “We noticed systemic problems meeting their complex needs.” He noted that they had problems in getting adequate health care professionals, and problems interpreting the languages of the indigenous detainees. Not all of them spoke Spanish. This helped to make their medical problems “fraught and risky,” he said. “The facilities were not well planned to keep children safe,” he said. For example, his team found a lack of pediatricians.  The team of inspectors found that the facilities did not meet their own guidelines. As a result of their first report, President Obama shut down the facility that his team complained about.

Things got worse again under the Trump administration particularly as a result of their policy of child separation. It is well recognized that this policy was devised by Trump’s man—Attorney General Jeff Sessions—in order to put pressure on unwelcome asylum seekers. That basically meant all asylum seekers.

When the consequences of that policy became well known, the public revolted. After that  Dr. Scott Allan and his team inspected an increasing number of family detention centers. That policy, Dr. Allan pointed out, “would knowingly put children at risk of significant mental and physical harm and as physicians we had an obligation to raise the alarm We initially did so internally as we normally do, but when there was no timely response we were ultimately obliged to notify Congress with the whistle blower protection laws in the U.S.” They became whistle blowers against their own bosses! That takes a lot of courage.

This got for profit companies involved. They saw an opportunity for vast profits. As Nicholas Kulish said, “We’ve gone from non-profits that make profit to actual for-profit money making businesses.” Now “profit” is not a four-letter word. But sometimes it can lead to the gulag. 6 children have died this year in family detention centers in the richest country in the world.

Dr. Allan and his inspector team noticed that some young children were being give anti-depressants without medical assessments. They noticed children trying to commit suicide. Amidst all of this they noticed poor record keeping and poor attention to allergies of children. The health care was sub-par.  Dr. Allan summed up the problems this way,

“The central mistake we have made is to prioritize confinement over what we would have traditionally done at any time in our history, which was to prioritize care, health, and safety of children. We should be mounting a massive relief operation and a humanitarian operation which prioritizes early triage, assessment by qualified health professionals, and placement of children in community settings which has been done safely historically and that would result in safe conditions for the children. None of that would preclude an orderly process of adjudicating asylum claims, but we have made a critically careless mistake not consistent with our history in prioritizing confinement over care.”

Dr. Scott Allan and his colleague Dr. Panela McPherson reported to Congress as follows (in bare scientific language):

“The expansion of detention has resulted in increased reports of harm to children…The practice of detaining children and families is no longer an issue of policy dispute. It is willful policy that knowingly inflicted serious harm to children, including risk of death.”

We must also remember that Trump and Sessions would have made things even worseif they had their way and the public had not resisted. They wanted to detain children aloneto maximize pressure on the parents of the children to leave and abandon their asylum claims! This is what both of them wantedto do before the public outcry.

Dr. Scott has worked in immigration detention settings for nearly 40 years, but he was shocked when looked into the eyes of vulnerable children and women often vulnerable from a medical health perspective, and “it stuns me to have to report these findings,” he said.

The damning report by Dr. Allan’s team was produced internally for the government in 2018 and notwithstanding that report, in 2019 the program expanded. As Kulish said, “Not only is it continuing it actually is getting worse.” ]More and more people are crossing the southern border with Mexico, and though most of the asylum seekers are not Mexican, they are now crossing in remote pars of the country like Arizona where conditions are most dangerous. When they arrive to get care with Border Patrol the asylum seekers often are already de-hydrated and suffering from before they come to increasingly inadequate US facilities in the richest country in the world.

Even Border Patrol acknowledges that it is not equipped to handle these claimants, particularly the young women with infants. As Kulish said, “Many of the people in Border Patrol are not trained or equipped to deal with people in this sort of peril.” The big problem, according to Kulish, is that Border Patrol, and the entire Trump administration, is treating the problem as a law enforcement issue, rather than care needed by desperate people.

Comparing the America family detention centers along the southern border “concentration camps” is not actually helpful. What counts is that they are shameful and show a startling lack of empathy for desperate people. To treat the most vulnerable people the way Border Patrol has done is disgraceful.

Trump keeps saying things like they won’t fund soccer balls, or education, or legal representation for children and is convinced that his base will approve.  Millions of Americans approve of what he is doing. There is of course a huge divide in the United States today. Trump’s base loves what he is doing. Progressives are appalled. The issue is not Trump. He is hopeless. I really don’t care what all of this says about Donald Trump. Trump is not important. I do care about what all of this says about Americans. Many of them are my friends. Not all Americans support Trump, but millions do. What kind of a country is that now?

2 thoughts on “Concentration Camps for Kids

  1. i am skeptical that trump can be separated from the country. he is a symptom and that country has been intermittently and seriously xenophobic for at least the last 100 years.
    people consistently underestimate how conservative the country really is.
    as for generosity? slavery and 1st nation genocide aside, the great u.s.a. used napalm on civilians in both korea and vietnam. it is the only country in human history to bomb civilians with nuclear weapons.
    it is important to contextualize this. the “north” (the west, white people) is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis. and your point about “some” culpability in the creation of asylum seekers is crucial. the harvest of 500 years of conquest is now upon us.
    so you need to link your cogitation about 1st nation peoples to this. it is all part of the same package.
    i have witnessed professionally how the “good church-going”, clean, educated people in political, financial, and economic power have treated poor children in this city for 40 years. i have studied and observed how canada has treated 1st nation children on the reservations and in the cities for centuries.
    this kind of treatment is not a surprise. obscene yes, but a surprise no.
    and i agree, like the use of the words holocaust or slavery, the use of “concentration camps” needs to be used carefully. its appropriateness is at least arguable.

    1. I agree with much of what you have said. I read a very interesting in the Guardian on this subject: Greg Grandin, “How violent American vigilantes at the border led to Trump’s wall,” The Guardian (Feb 28, 2019) He explores this topic in fascinating detail. Grandin has also written a book on the subject which I have not read, but would like to read. I am trying to explore the subject of whether America is generous or not. I used to think it was. It also has a lot of sins to account for as you suggest. I also agree that this issue is intimately and obscenely connected to the treatment of Indigenous people and slaves. Canada of course has sins too including slaves! I will be blogging more about these subjects. Thanks for your comments.

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