US Gov’t Treats Dogs Better than Detained Immigrant Children

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While the US Department of Homeland Security puts immigrant children in cages, Customs and Border Protection treats dogs to “plush double-sided sheepskin bedding” at a pet resort. TRNN’s Ben Norton speaks with investigative journalist Ken Klippenstein

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Story Transcript

BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News, I’m Ben Norton. The world has been shocked in recent weeks by images of young immigrant children torn away from their families at the southern border of the United States. In audio recordings obtained by journalists, children can be heard screaming for their parents. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is putting these children in cages where temperatures are sometimes freezing and they have nothing but a space blanket. And there are also reports of widespread physical abuse and even sexual assault of these detained children.

Yet at the same time, dogs in the custody of Customs and Border Protection get lavish treatment at a pet resort contracted by the DHS. Ken Klippenstein, an investigative reporter with The Young Turks, recently revealed this in a report titled, As DHS Puts Children in Cages, Guess Where They’re Putting Dogs. We’re joined by Ken today to talk about the shocking story. Thanks for joining us, Ken.

KEN KLIPPENSTEIN: Hey Ben, thanks so much for having me.

BEN NORTON: So, can you talk a bit more about this story? And you mentioned in the report, you reviewed public records and the DHS is contracting a pet resort where dogs are sleeping inside and temperature controlled doggy suites. And you mentioned they have maid service and “plush double-sided sheepskin bedding,” while at the same time children detained by the same U.S. government department are put in cages.

KEN KLIPPENSTEIN: Yeah, there’s sort of a darkly comic quality to it, especially when you consider the fact that the president has called many of these immigrants “animals” that may have been too kind of rhetoric for him, given that at least in this instance they treat them worse than animals, than dogs. As you point out, reputable human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch has in the past reported that detainees in ICE, or DHS custody rather, have been made to sleep on concrete slabs, freezing cold temperatures they’ve reported. And these are a number of different reports, not just a few individuals.

And so, when you compare that with the treatment of dogs in DHS custody- unfortunately, the records didn’t say whether these were service dogs or dogs that they obtained in the course of any other activities. But it did say, as you point out, that they were given plush bedding, they have maid service. Unfortunately, these aren’t things that actual humans would appear to be entitled to with the DHS.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and actually here at The Real News I recently interviewed Nino Brown, who is an organizer with the Jericho Movement, which is a movement to advocate for the rights of political prisoners here in the U.S. And he talked about how at a prison in Massachusetts, where Malcolm X had previously been held in fact, there are detainees who are being forced to drink polluted water that is polluted with different chemicals. Well, dogs that they’re training at the prison get water bottles. So, this is certainly widespread, it’s symptomatic of larger issues. So, can you talk a bit more about your reporting and then also the reporting we’ve seen in recent weeks on the detention of these children by CBP? And also, you can mention ICE.

KEN KLIPPENSTEIN: Well, I’ll talk a little bit more about it. I mean, the dogs are even permitted more outdoor play time than these children detainees are. So, the children detainees are only allowed out two hours out of the day, according to reporting that has come out in the last couple of weeks. Dogs can have up to four hours, so it’s twice as much time as children can have. And I mean, you know how much kids need to be able to exercise. Any child psychologist can tell you that’s absolutely crucial. It’s not the same as an adult needing to go outside and get exercise, although of course we need that as well.

And so, I just thought that was kind of striking, once again in light of his comments about immigrants being animals, that he’s treating them even worse than that. And I think we should all sort of reflect on the Zimbardo prison studies and what we might take back from that in terms of what we could anticipate to be treatment of individuals who have far less power than the guards that are watching over them. That being completely aside from the really quite inflammatory rhetoric on the part of the president that may even empower undesirable activity of that sort.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and I’m wondering if we could conclude here talking a bit about how this policy actually is not entirely new, although it’s completely shocking. And there’s no question that it’s gotten worse in recent years as the Trump administration has given CBP and ICE carte blanche to do whatever they want. But this actually really goes back to the post 9/11 war on terror era that we’re in. The Bush Administration created the Department of Homeland Security, under which ICE and now CBP are part of the U.S. government’s department.

And we’ve seen under the Bush administration, also under the Barack Obama administration, an intensification of a kind of war on immigrants, massive deportations, record levels of deportations, and the Trump administration has continued to exacerbate this. As a reporter, can you focus a bit on the Trump administration and also the Obama administration? I’m wondering if you can reflect on how this is bipartisan policy that has gotten even worse under Trump.

KEN KLIPPENSTEIN: It’s absolutely right. There’s been an intensification of it, but there’s no question that- I mean, you know ICE didn’t exist thirty years ago. This is a new institution. And so, when people say, you know maybe we ought to get rid of ICE entirely, I don’t see that as that- that wouldn’t seem to be such a radical policy given that it didn’t exist not that long ago. People have this idea that perhaps this is an institution that is enshrined in the Constitution or maybe at least in the post-war period, and that’s just not true. And going back to Obama, yeah, there were significant rights groups that were calling him “the Deporter-in-Chief.” So, while Trump certainly is pursuing these policies with more- you know, much more aggressively than his predecessor did, there’s no question that Obama laid the groundwork for these kind of things to happen.

So yeah, any any solution I think has to take into account that fact and the fact that they really- you know, he had a powerful congressional majority and the Democratic Party- it would seem that a big part of their constituency would be people who have family who might be impacted by these ICE policies. So, I think it’s really sort of scandalous that they didn’t tackle those things when they had the chance. Now of course, the Democrats are I think essentially irrelevant at this point, given that they control none of the bodies of government. And so, in that sense, we sort of have to deal with what’s in front of us I think. But there’s certainly a history there.

BEN NORTON: Well, thank you for joining us. We were speaking with Ken Klippenstein, who is an investigative reporter who contributes to The Young Turks and also The Daily Beast. We were discussing a shocking new report he has titled, As DHS Puts children In Cages, Guess Where They’re Putting Dogs. Thanks for speaking with us, Ken.

KEN KLIPPENSTEIN: Hey, thanks so much, Ben.

BEN NORTON: For The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.