We are kidnapping children. The Trump Administration is echoing some of the ugliest periods in human history, and it is effectively torturing children by ripping them from their parents and putting them in camps concentrated with other children torn from their families. Today’s horror story follows a five-year-old girl named Helen. Per The New Yorker:
In July, Helen fled Honduras with her grandmother, Noehmi, and several other relatives; gangs had threatened Noehmi’s teen-age son, Christian, and the family no longer felt safe. Helen’s mother, Jeny, had migrated to Texas four years earlier, and Noehmi planned to seek legal refuge there. With Noehmi’s help, Helen travelled thousands of miles, sometimes on foot, and frequently fell behind the group. While crossing the Rio Grande in the journey’s final stretch, Helen slipped from their raft and risked drowning. Her grandmother grabbed her hand and cried, “Hang on, Helen!” When the family reached the scrubland of southern Texas, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended them and moved them through a series of detention centers. A month earlier, the Trump Administration had announced, amid public outcry over its systemic separation of migrant families at the border, that it would halt the practice. But, at a packed processing hub, Christian was taken from Noehmi and placed in a cage with toddlers. Noehmi remained in a cold holding cell, clutching Helen. Soon, she recalled, a plainclothes official arrived and informed her that she and Helen would be separated. “No!” Noehmi cried. “The girl is under my care! Please!”
Noehmi said that the official told her, “Don’t make things too difficult,” and pulled Helen from her arms. “The girl will stay here,” he said, “and you’ll be deported.” Helen cried as he escorted her from the room and out of sight. Noehmi remembers the authorities explaining that Helen’s mother would be able to retrieve her, soon, from wherever they were taking her.
Later that day, Noehmi and Christian were reunited. The adults in the family were fitted with electronic ankle bracelets and all were released, pending court dates. They left the detention center and rushed to Jeny’s house, in McAllen, hoping to find Helen there. When they didn’t, Noehmi began to shake, struggling to explain the situation. “Immigration took your daughter,” she told Jeny.
When Helen was taken, she checked a box on an application requesting an immigration judge. However, in early August, an unknown official gave the five-year-old a legal document titled “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” where she checked a box giving up her right to a hearing. The New Yorker obtained both documents, and you can see the latter, with Helen’s squiggly signature next to “Child’s Signature,” below.
The good news is that after a serious legal and PR push, Helen was eventually reunited with her family, but the scars of being separated are just beginning to manifest. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands more cases of separated children, and it’s an open question as to whether federal agents may be manipulating children en masse into signing away their lives. If we are a country who truly believes that a five-year-old can understand the complexities of informed consent and waiving their basic rights away, then we are a fundamentally evil country.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.