Abuse, Cruelty, and the Theft of Migrant Childhoods

Courtesy of The Hill

Imagine you are a six-year-old little girl. All you have ever known is violence, as gang activity is extremely high in your home country, Guatemala. It has been an ever-present part of your life, which is why your mother decided to make the risky trip to seek asylum in the United States. Comparatively, it seems like a safe haven. It seems like a place you can call home. But, at the border of the “land of the free,” you are torn away from your mother and sent to a detention center.

Once you get there, one of the other children sexually assaults you. After the traumatizing incident, instead of receiving counseling or another form of help, you’re forced to sign a document stating that it was your fault. The boy assaults you again. By the time you’re reunited with your parents, you hardly recognize them. You cannot forget the detention center. You cannot forget what happened to you. You are a six-year-old girl known as D.L. who has just experienced what no child should. In a place where you were supposed to be safe, you became a victim of violence far worse than ever before.

D.L.’s experience was not an isolated incident. The detention centers themselves are inhospitable and foreign to the young children they house. Allegations of abuse and beatings in detention centers have surfaced, many of them involving guards attacking children.

One center in Virginia came under fire for reports of children as young as fourteen being stripped, beaten, and placed into solitary confinement. The same center was also found to be punishing children by taking away all possessions or restraining them for hours. And why? Why would anyone treat a child – or any other human being – this way when they had committed no criminal act and done nothing wrong? To deter immigrants and to deter anyone seeking safety from entering the U.S. because, while America might have been founded on the idea of freedom, what it now represents is xenophobia.

No matter the stance on immigration, this treatment of children is unacceptable. President Trump has received widespread bipartisan outrage regarding his “no tolerance” policy, which resulted in a court order demanding that migrant children be returned to their parents. Children under five had to be reunited with their parents by July 10th and those ages five to seventeen by July 26th. And yet, the administration’s attempt to reunite families after tearing them apart has moved at a maddeningly slow pace.

A few days after June 10th, only 57 of the 103 children under five years old were back with their parents. The government missed the deadline for the children they were supposed to reunite, and there are still many separated families left. There were, of course, certain circumstances that prevented reunification, such as parents with serious criminal history, parents who had already been deported, or confusion with the identity of the parent; however, the fact remains that many children are being subjected to extreme cruelty in a nation that claims it has fixed its mistake. The fact remains that this country is traumatizing children by ripping them away from their parents and placing them into hostile situations in which they are defenseless. The fact remains that this policy should never have been created.

The government may try to undo the pain they have inflicted, but they cannot erase the long-term effects of it for children who suffered in a detention center alone and helpless. They cannot take back what they have done.  


-Lucia Wetherill