By Jodi S. Cohen, Melissa Sanchez & Duaa Eldeib
They were as young as 10 months, as old as almost 18.
About one-third of the children who ended up in Chicago came from Guatemala. Others had fled Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Romania and India. All had at least one parent locked up, often hundreds of miles away.
Months after the plight of children separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration crackdown sparked outrage, prompting a reversal of the policy, those children’s identities and experiences in detention remain largely unknown.
But ProPublica Illinois has obtained confidential records about the 99 children sent to Illinois shelters run by the nonprofit Heartland Human Care Services, which has a federal contract to house immigrant children at nine facilities in the Chicago area.
The records are part of a larger set of documents that shed light on the inner workings of the country’s secretive detention system for children, revealed in a ProPublica Illinois investigation last week.
Similar to minors who arrive in the United States on their own, the children separated from their parents had often fled danger and arrived at the shelters scared and confused. But they tended to be younger and more traumatized by their detention. Suddenly alone, the children agonized over missing their parents and acted on their anguish by threatening to harm themselves or others, the files show.
Seven of the separated children in Chicago still haven’t been reunited with their families.
“I cried during the nights in the shelter,” she wrote in Spanish. “I spent all night crying, asking God for us to be together again.”
One of them, a 12-year-old boy named Erick — in custody nearly four months after immigration officials took him from his father — became so depressed that he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a week, diagnosed with adjustment disorder, according to the records.
Since he was placed in Heartland’s care in May, Erick has been put on at least three medications to control his depression, aggression and emotional outbursts, has had trouble sleeping and has fought with other children and staff, according to the documents.
In June, an 11-year-old boy from Guatemala, housed at a Heartland shelter in suburban Des Plaines, cried inconsolably and said, “I want to die here,” the records show. Employees there told him “he needs to live to see his family.”
A 12-year-old girl from Romania reported she felt “as though she would die without her dad.”
And a 13-year-old from Brazil felt bad he didn’t know information about his mother. Their first call didn’t come until nearly a month after they were separated.
Heartland officials said the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy has caused “incalculable harm” to children, leaving the organization with the job of “picking up the pieces of the administration’s very destructive policies.”
A federal class-action lawsuit filed by a coalition of lawyers last week asks that the government pay for mental health treatment for children separated from their parents, saying the “traumatic event” has caused “severe and often permanent emotional and psychological harm.” Psychiatrists and pediatricians had urged the government to end the policy, arguing it would lead to anxiety, depression and developmental delays.
“The damage inflicted was not something that went away because of the reunification,” said Jesse Bless, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, who has represented children housed at Heartland’s shelters. “We are starting to see signs that there could be long-term effects.”
Heartland Human Care Services is part of a larger nonprofit organization, Heartland Alliance, that focuses on a range of human rights issues. The group houses about 3,000 immigrant children a year in the Chicago area. Children separated from their parents have been held at three shelters in Chicago — in Englewood, Bronzeville and Rogers Park — and two in Des Plaines.
The documents obtained by ProPublica Illinois include rosters with demographic information about the children, including 39 who arrived during one week in late May, at the height of the crackdown.
Heartland employees closely tracked the children, detailing how well they were coping and making daily notes on efforts to reunite them with their families or connect them by phone. The agency was under pressure to move quickly as the government faced a court-ordered deadline to reunite about 2,600 children held in shelters across the country. As of last week, more than a month after the July 26 deadline, about 400 remained separated from their families.
Heartland officials said some of the seven children in its care who have not yet been reunited with their parents face an “uncertain future.” Their cases are among the most challenging because their parents have been deported or remain in detention, or no sponsor — typically a relative or family friend — has been identified to take them in.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the unaccompanied minor program, has the final say on when a child can be released. Federal officials have said they take multiple factors, including safety, into consideration before placing a child and that the process begins as soon as a child is in custody.
The records show how difficult it has been to reunite families, a task made even more challenging because the government had no system to do that. In case notes, Heartland staffers routinely said they found it hard to reach U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees to learn a parent’s whereabouts.
When Heartland workers did speak with ICE employees, the agency sometimes couldn’t locate parents, or, by the time they did, the parents already were being moved to a different detention facility. …
With Hundreds Of Children Still Detained, Sessions Instructs Judges To Show Less ‘Sympathy’ For Immigrants
By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams (9/11/18)
With around 500 families still separated and hundreds of children still in detention as a result of the Trump administration’s cruel “zero tolerance” policy and as the White House moves ahead with a proposal one critic called “Gitmo for children,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday lectured incoming immigration lawyers to show less “sympathy” for immigrants trapped in President Donald Trump’s mass deportation dragnet.
“When we depart from the law and create nebulous legal standards out of a sense of sympathy for the personal circumstances of a respondent in our immigration courts, we do violence to the rule of law and constitutional fabric that bind this great nation,” Sessions declared in a speech delivered to 44 new judges in Virginia. “Your job is to apply the law—even in tough cases.”
Sessions’ comments, which come as the Trump administration continues to face international condemnation over its family separation policies, immediately provoked backlash from the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ)—the union that represents U.S. immigration judges—as well as former judges, who characterized the attorney general’s instructions as politically motivated, legally baseless, and morally bankrupt.
“The reality is that it is a political statement which does not articulate a legal concept that judges are required to be aware of and follow,” Dana Marks, an NAIJ spokesperson and immigration judge in San Francisco, told Buzzfeed. “It did appear to be a one-sided argument made by a prosecutor.”
Jeffrey Chase, a former immigration judge who is currently an immigration lawyer, accused Sessions of “characterizing decisions he personally disagrees with as being based on sympathy alone, when in fact, those decisions were driven by sympathy but based on solid legal reasoning.”
“We possess brains and hearts, not just one or the other,” Chase added.
Sessions’ speech was delivered just hours after new United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet denounced the Trump administration’s family separation policy—which was devised and implemented by Sessions’ Justice Department—as “unconscionable” in her first speech on Monday and ripped the White House for not doing nearly enough to reunite the families it forcibly ripped apart.
As Buzzfeed‘s Hamed Aleaziz notes, Sessions—who as attorney general oversees the nation’s immigration judges—has already taken concrete steps to make an already cruel immigration system even more harmful to immigrants and asylum seekers.
“Sessions already has instituted case quotas, restricted the types of cases for which asylum can be granted, and limited when judges can indefinitely suspend certain cases,” Aleaziz notes. “Advocates believe the Trump administration has made these decisions in order to speed up deportations. His comments on sympathy to immigrants appeared intended to bolster a decision he made recently to limit when asylum can be granted out of fear of domestic or gang violence.”
(This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.)
Lawmaker On Center For Immigrant Kids: ‘We cannot allow this house of horrors to continue to operate’
By Will Evans
Federal and state lawmakers are calling for action as the U.S. government continues to keep immigrant children locked in a Texas facility known for child deaths and serial abuse.
Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting documented a long,gruesome history of abuse at Shiloh Treatment Center and other residential facilities run by Clay Dean Hill. Since 1993, four children have died after being physically restrained by staff at Hill’s centers. Others have been punched and kicked by caretakers, sexually abused and forcibly injected with powerful drugs.
A federal judge ordered the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to remove children from Shiloh unless they pose “a risk of harm to self or others.” But the government hasn’t done so, leaving 25 immigrant children there, said attorney Carlos Holguín, who visited Shiloh last week.
“They’re in clear violation of the court’s order,” said Holguín, general counsel for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law.
The children at Shiloh include many who are not a danger to themselves and others and who remain on psychotropic medications without parental consent, he said.
“There should be a zero tolerance policy for any contractor or facility that is found to be mistreating these vulnerable children. That is why I have called on HHS to investigate Shiloh and will continue to press them to do so,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a statement to Reveal. …