Six Children Have Died While in ICE Custody – Why?

May 29, 2019

Undocumented immigrants seeking asylum are being separated from their children and detained in prison camps as more restrictive racist policies are being imposed by Trump. We discuss the policy with the Border Rights Center Director of ACLU Texas, Astrid Dominguez

Undocumented immigrants seeking asylum are being separated from their children and detained in prison camps as more restrictive racist policies are being imposed by Trump. We discuss the policy with the Border Rights Center Director of ACLU Texas, Astrid Dominguez


Six Children Have Died While in ICE Custody - Why?

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us.

A 10 year old from El Salvador, we don’t know her name, but she died in U.S. custody on March the 4th. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez, 16 years old, Juan de Leon Gutierrez, also 16, 8 year old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 7 year old Jakelin Caal, and a 2 and a half year old boy, we don’t know his name either. They were all from Guatemala. And like the unnamed 10 year old girl, they all died in U.S. custody, essentially alone, who had fallen prey to a policy of criminal detention of undocumented immigrants, and one that more than not, separates children from their parents. No child has died in U.S. custody since 2010, until now. Now, at least six have died. On top of that, Trump has announced a new immigration policy that would make family unification much more difficult for immigrants, especially Latino immigrants, and would also create what has been described as a very racist, merit-based system.

To wade our way through all of this, we are joined by Astrid Dominguez, who is the Border Rights Center Director with the ACLU Texas. And Astrid, welcome. Good to have you with us.

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER: So this is stunning and very sad news, and there’s been a lot of arguments about what’s happening since the deaths of these children. What do we know about the investigations? Who’s winning these investigations? Are they inside, anybody from the outside? What exactly do you know about what’s happening?

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: That is a great question. So we know that the agency Customs and Border Protection have agencies that also investigate. They have their Office of Professional Responsibilities, they have the Office of the Inspector General, and they have the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. So we hope that these instances are investigating the cases of these children. We know that members of Congress, since the first death, requested more transparency and an actual true and transparent investigation of what led to the causes of these minors dying. We have not heard any results in the sense of this investigation. What’s important to keep in mind is that this is an agency that often keeps all of this in secrecy. And that’s what’s so troubling about this case, is it’s tragic. I mean, that children are dying in custody, it’s a horrible tragedy. Sadly, it’s expected. The agency continues to fail to provide humane treatment, including adequate medical attention to children and/or adults who are in their custody.

MARC STEINER: So do we know anything about the separation policies? Are they changing? Are families still being separated, are children being held separately from the adults? What do we know about that? I mean, how is that really changing reality? I’ve heard a lot of people saying different things, but what’s the reality?

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: So as you know, we continue to have our litigation, Ms. L, which is about family separation. So they stopped separating families. They separate families in a different type of context. According to them, if it’s not directly related, let’s say if it’s a grandmother or if a sibling comes with a younger sibling, then they tend to separate a time. But we continue to have families arriving at our ports of entry and in between ports that are seeking asylum. But we also continue to receive unaccompanied children. So these are the minors that are unaccompanied that are coming, they’re still arriving to our ports and our border seeking asylum. So we have this too population of vulnerable individuals that are seeking for help. And it appears that the minor that passed away last week was an unaccompanied child, so it doesn’t appear that that child was with a parent. Though we’ve heard in research that we’ve done–and we’re talking to the families that have them–believe that they also separate by age.

I think once you hit a certain age, they do not put you in the same cell with your parent, but they actually take you and put you with the unaccompanied children population. And unless that minor–I mean, what we’ve been told–unless the minor requires it or they’re crying a lot, then they reunite them at least for some little time so they can see the parent, but it doesn’t mean that they’re back together until they’re released. So technically, they’re still somehow separating, even though at the end, they’re reuniting the family for relief. But while they’re in custody, these children sometimes, unless they’re at a tender age, meaning like younger, if you’re over 10 or 12, one of those two ages–I mean, above those ages–you will be separated from your parents.

MARC STEINER: A couple quick questions here before we return to this clip from Donald Trump. What’s your understanding of why so many people are coming to this moment? And why so many children? Why so many children unaccompanied? What’s behind all this and what’s really going on here?

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: That’s a great question. We can look at root causes. We know that the Northern Triangle is going–those countries, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, they’re fleeing violence, they’re fleeing gangs, they’re fleeing poverty. It’s a factor of gangs, and they’re coming to our country seeking for asylum. So the situation in those countries has not changed. It hasn’t gotten better. Honduras was considered the murder capital of the world. So these are the countries where they’re coming from, these are people that have experienced a lot in their home countries and throughout the journey, and are now arriving to our country looking for help, looking for a refuge. They surrender to Border Patrol. These are families and children who are not fleeing the Border Patrol. They see Border Patrol and they surrender because they see them as the help.

Yes, this agency that’s arresting them, processing them, it’s not treating them in a humane way. Border Patrol continues to use their deterrent strategy, and it’s really deterring with their cruelty approach. They are trying to make them stop, they don’t want them to come. And they are further militarizing the border and they’re detaining children and families in horrible condition instead of pursuing humane solutions. The population that’s arriving to our border, it’s very different from the population that was arriving 20 years ago. Yes, they’re using the same tactics. They have to have a humane approach and they have to change the way they’re doing things, and they’re opting not to do it.

MARC STEINER: So tell me very quickly, just for our viewers, Astrid, talk just a little bit about the work you do, and what the ACLU is doing there, and what your border organization is actually in the midst of doing, and what it has to do with these children’s deaths and other policies surrounding that.

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: Thank you. Well, the ACLU, we have so far failed to OIG complaints. And precisely, we filed one the weekend before the last child passed away. And in that complaint, we quite frankly call out the conditions in which people are being held in the Rio Grande Valley. And we talk about–we interviewed a little bit over 120 families that shared their stories and what they went through and what they went through in the hieleras, or the tents. I mean, some of these people slept outside on the floor, on logs. They didn’t receive adequate medical attention, they were verbally abused and mistreated, and a lot of them spent more than three to four days in custody. So we’re documenting these cases both in the RGV and El Paso. We’ve filed complaints, and we’ve requested that the administration, we’ve requested the CBP to precisely investigate and change the current policies they have. CBP is currently violating their own standards. They have minimum standards they should be meeting, and they’re violating those by not treating both the families and children properly.

MARC STEINER: So I’m curious about what you just said. And so, given that the policies that are being challenged and pushed here, for you and our viewers, let’s listen to Trump for a moment here. And I’m very curious how you think we can listen to it and watch here how this will ameliorate or exasperate what’s happening on the border, especially with the children, with the families, and what’s going to happen with immigrants in terms of family unification Let’s just hear what Trump had to say on the White House lawn here.

DONALD TRUMP: Critical to ending the border crisis is removing all incentives for smuggling women and children. Current law and federal court rulings encourage criminal organizations to smuggle children across the border. Our plan will change the law to stop the flood of child smuggling and to humanely reunite unaccompanied children with their families back home, and rapidly, soon as possible. Our nation has a proud history of affording protection to those fleeing government persecutions. Unfortunately, legitimate asylum seekers are being displaced by those lodging frivolous claims. These are frivolous claims to gain admission into our country.

MARC STEINER: So Astrid, I’m very curious. If you had the opportunity at that moment to give a response to Donald Trump, what would you say?

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: The so-called crisis at the border, it’s a crisis that they’re creating themselves. This administration has done everything possible to stop asylum seekers from arriving to our country. During the family separation crisis back last summer, we constantly heard former Secretary Nielsen and CBP Commissioner, now acting DHS secretary, say, “Well these families are separated because they’re breaking the law, because they’re arriving between ports. They should come to a port of entry.” Families are arriving at ports of entry. Families were arriving. And yet, the U.S. government was turning asylum seekers away. And right now, they have practiced a policy called metering, and at ports of entry, there’s long lists. In Tijuana, there’s about a list of like over a thousand people waiting to be processed for asylum. And they keep pushing people away. They say, “There’s no asylum today, sorry we’re full,” or “We’re not giving asylum anymore.” And there’s a Remain in Mexico policy about returning some people to Mexico to wait for their process.

So this administration has done everything possible precisely to prevent people from coming and seeking asylum. Even when unaccompanied children had the opportunity to do their third country insert country processing when they were in Guatemala, this administration got rid of that. So this administration lied when they said they’re trying to make it easier, because they’ve been preventing that. I mean, it’s legal to seek asylum in the U.S. And these people are coming here, and they can seek asylum. But this administration is doing nothing to facilitate it, it’s doing nothing to make it more efficient, to make it more humane. On the contrary, they’re trying to deter families. That’s why part of family separation happened. They wanted them to message home and say, “You’re not welcome here.”.

MARC STEINER: Astrid Dominguez is the Director of the Border Rights Center with the ACLU of Texas, and joins us from Texas. And Astrid, thank you so much for your work and thank you for taking your time with us today at the last minute. I appreciate you being part of this program.

ASTRID DOMINGUEZ: Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. We of course will stay on top of all of this. Take care.