Opinion: We Know We’re In Trouble when Gitmo Looks Fair

If you’re a child and an immigrant, this was the week you were told that your rights matter less than the rights of suspected terrorists at Gitmo.

On the plus side, the Senate unanimously passed  a House bill making cruelty to animals a felony. This is a good thing.

It’s great to see that the Senate still knows how to hold a vote and that bipartisanship can occur. It’s also great to see that even as they remain silent about Donald Trump’s inherently cruel anti-immigrant policies, Republican Senators can understand why cruelty to animals should be a felony offense.

Admittedly, I started writing this article after seeing Carole Rosenberg’s piece about a ruling at Gitmo involving medical care for an alleged terrorist.

The alleged terrorist sought to get medical care from an independent civilian doctor, which was refused by the court because:

“Detainees do not have a constitutional right to choose their own medical providers nor to obtain treatment of their own choosing,”

But they do have a right to treatment and they have a right to raise the issue of medical care in court with a lawyer.

There are some children in America who don’t have the same rights. Children who are here on medical deferment were sent deportation letters  in August, ordering them to leave the country in 33 days. They were invited here by the government to receive the medical treatment that keeps them alive.

Deportation means death, and unlike the defendant in a case where the Supreme Court ruled that deportation is not punishment, they did not commit any crimes.

After massive blowback, DHS said it would reverse itself. But two months later, the status of these children remains in flux.

If you’re a child seeking asylum, odds are your home in America is a cage. You probably don’t get the food you need, medical treatment, basic hygiene, nor a legal guardian or lawyer to represent you in deportation proceedings.

You could be just on the verge of becoming an adult, just about ready to start school or just about ready to learn how to walk. It doesn’t matter. Currently, you don’t have a right to legal representation  in immigration court.

In a 2018 decision the ACLU described as brutal, a three-judge panel decided that a 15-year-old boy from Honduras  is not entitled to legal representation.
In its analysis, the ACLU  asserts:

“It appears to be the first case ever to hold that children can represent themselves in court when important legal rights are at stake. That the ruling came in a deportation case involving asylum — where the stakes are incredibly high, the law notoriously complex, and the government pays a trained prosecutor to advocate the child’s deportation — makes the court’s decision even more extreme. The ruling is the latest, and most disappointing, chapter in our long-running effort to obtain fairness for children in immigration court.”

While in the government’s custody, children seeking asylum are not free to communicate with people outside the facility they are kept in. It stands to reason they can’t seek outside help when they are denied the basic necessities of life – let alone get legal representation and a court to care about the fact they aren’t getting food, hygiene and medical treatment.

This isn’t just my opinion. There were several reports by the Inspector General of the HHS regarding the under-reporting of how many children were separated from their parents  . The same Inspector General wrote another report on the trauma that children who were separated from their parents live with – and are not receiving treatment for.

Per that report:

“Facilities reported that addressing the needs of separated children was particularly challenging, because these children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress than children who were not separated,” said Deputy Inspector General Ann Maxwell. “Separated children are also younger than the teenagers facilities were used to caring for.”

Back in June, we heard about the quality of care children were given through heart-wrenching media reports, including this one from Slate:

“Border Patrol guards, cops, lawyers, politicians, television pundits—all of whom, we can safely assume, use both toothpaste and soap daily—are going to great lengths to make sure these children continue to get none, on principle. It is apparently also a principled stance to make sure they receive no diapers, blankets, medical care, education, soccer balls, or legal counsel. And, of course, the most important denied needs of all, containing all the others like a locked warehouse: They must have no freedom, and no love.”

The news cycle being what is, we’ve moved on to deal with the daily political crisis, the daily threat to national security, the daily obscene thing Trump has said or done.

The children continue to exist in a hell that is comparable to being in a war, or in what Trump would call a sh*t hole country.

I remember Elijah Cummings’s voice booming outrage for the children who continue to live in that squalor – the trauma and physical health issues accumulating by the day.

I’d like to think that Tuesday night’s repudiation of Donald Trump in Virginia and in Kentucky was a step toward a time when we can recapture enough compassion to manage protecting animals, but not to the exclusion of children who are as just as innocent.

As it stands, the asylum-seeking children live in conditions worse than those of the prisoners at Gitmo and they have fewer rights, in practice. We have the will to protect alleged terrorists, now we have a law to protect vulnerable animals, but the children are not vulnerable enough. They keep falling through the cracks. There is something dreadfully wrong about this.