CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 10 November 2018

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Children abused in detention

Thousands of undocumented immigrants who have crossed into the United States (US) in the past several months have had their children forcibly taken from them and placed in cages in detention centres by the president, Donald Trump.
 
Church leaders of many denominations and political leaders—Democrats and Republicans alike—and millions of good-hearted Americans and the international community expressed outrage calling it a violation of children’s human rights and a form of child abuse.
 
Trump has backed down and has signed an Executive Order changing this most cruel, obnoxious and hateful practice. It was not compassion, but the public and political pressure that caused the change. Yet the immediate reuniting of parents and children is not in the order and no way has been proposed on how to do it.
 
The children are locked in cages in a Wal-Mart warehouse while their parents or guardians are in jail awaiting a court hearing for entering the United States undocumented. They are likely to be sent back to their South American countries where there is violence and serious human rights violations, hunger and oppression. 
 
They have a right to apply for asylum. Protecting them and approving their requests is a way rich America can help the poor. Hundreds are being deported by Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy. One man was deported but his three-year old child was kept in US detention, many more will surely follow.
 
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the US ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Nikki Haley, said in a speech that the United States is and has been a staunch supporter of human rights and is leaving the UN Human Rights Council because most member countries are violators of human rights. The violation of the rights of children of asylum seekers to the US was not raised.
 
Many critics, including Republican senators and members of the US Congress, including the Democrats, have spoken out strongly against the violation of the rights of the children by Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents. There are as many as 2,500 children held in the cages separated from their parents. The wailing and crying of the children was tape-recorded and played over the Internet.
 
Evangelicals have condemned the practice and the Catholic Bishops have said called it immoral. Trump ordered the detention through his attorney general, Jeff Sessions who justified it by quoting from the Bible, a quotation used by slavers, Nazis, and Apartheid supporters in the past.
 
Trump wrongly blamed the Democrats for this malicious practice. Last January, he asked why the US couldn’t have migrants from Norway and instead of from “shithole countries.” 
 
The offensive racist remark condemned non-white countries that have to swallow the insults and their hurt pride. Trump has banned migrants from several Muslim countries. He has built his political career on the selfish exclusion of migrants who have helped build America.    
 
There is a method and purpose behind this forced detention. Trump wants a bill passed to end this detention that is of his own design and making. The US Congress must approve a bill that gives him 25 billion dollars ($199 billion) to build a wall along the border with Mexico. 
 
Politicians are calling it blackmail and some say the children are being used as hostages; pawns in his political game.   
 
His own wife, Melania, along with former First Ladies have said it is wrong and against the true spirit of what America is supposed to stand for. Trump was unmoved until the outrage built to unbearable pressure. Now finally he had to back down.   
 
It is not the Philippines. But if anyone has the courage to visit any of the municipal or city child detention centres in Metro Manila or in the provinces, bring your smelling salts and anti-depressants. If you are allowed inside you will witness the shocking deplorable and sub-human conditions where Filipino children, some as young as 10-years-old, boys and girls, are incarcerated behind steel bars like criminals. 
 
Some are called Bahay Pag-asa or House of Hope, which are operated by local governments. But there is no hope. There are hundreds of malnourished children in overcrowded filthy cells. The public who pay for this cruel detention is not allowed inside most of the detention centres to witness the children behind bars. The politicians don’t go there.
 
In some Bahay Pag-asa, there are as many as twenty children in tiny prison cells that have a blocked toilet bowl that stinks to high heaven. It smells of faeces and urine, and the children and visitors choke on the obnoxious fumes. When one visitor did get inside she felt shock, was weak and overwhelmed. How could Filipinos treat their children like this, she asked.   
 
In most child detention cells there are no beds, no proper toilets, nowhere to wash or shower. Some have cages for the children. They are deprived of medical care, some have untreated wounds, and others—small kids—are locked in cells with mentally challenged adults. 
 
There is little or no educational or medical service, recreation, stimulation, games, comics or television and no exercise or sunlight outside the cells. Some are sexually abused by older boys. Guards also abuse the children.  
 
These Filipino children are abandoned by the state, cursed to suffer deprivation and punishment by local governments and forgotten by their parents, or have none. Under the law, many of them are not criminally liable and must be treated as children with all their rights but they are not.  
 
Of course, it is illegal detention and a violation of their rights under RA 7610 and RA 9344 but who cares? No one cares but a few NGOs and a few helpless government social workers and officials. In comparison, the Trump child detention centres are paradise.
 
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org