Honoring the Stories of Separated Children

As Christians, we want to stand in the gap for vulnerable children, insisting that our government always prioritize their wellbeing and protection.

Stories of Extreme Family Separation

We asked a group of Christian women to have a brave conversation about immigration. We gathered together and had a discussion about stories that were captured in 2019 when extreme family separation was happening as a result of the “Zero Tolerance Policy.” The ladies read testimonies of children held in the custody of the United States government. These hard-to-hear stories help us ask honest and important questions in an effort to learn more about our place in it all.

Exhibit 35

These stories are only some of hundreds of sworn testimonies of children held in detention centers in 2018 and 2019. These declarations were filed in the class-action lawsuit Flores v. Barr, which began in 1985 to address the mistreatment of migrant children in detention facilities. The declarations were collected by immigration lawyers from different universities and institutions. All the children swear under penalty of perjury that their declarations are true and complete to the best of their abilities.

As you listen to these stories, you’ll hear the word “exhibit.”  Exhibit is a legal term for evidence, as these stories are currently part of a legal process that is evaluating whether or not the U.S. Government provided or is providing adequate care for children in our country’s care. This is the story of one minor held in custody.

Unsuitable Conditions

I am from Honduras. I came to the United States on May 26, 2019. We have been in this facility (Ursala CPC) for 21 days. I have seen other people that have been here longer than me, but in the same cage where I am held the longest I have seen is 31 days here.

The temperature where I am at is okay during the day, but in the evening they put the temperature way down. I have to take my nephew and cuddle with his little body to keep him warm. There is another cage that is closest to the air conditioners and I feel bad for those children. They put the fathers with daughters in that cage and they are so freezing. I think it is a way of punishing them and it makes me so sad.

There is no drinkable water available for me and the baby. The water that is in the jugs tastes awful like it is from a dirty well. The water available to wash or clean the baby smells like urine and I am not about to use that water to wash my baby. I have to wait until they gave me water with a meal and I use a bit of that to clean him. I have also had to resort to stealing some wet wipes because they will not give them to me.

The good that we are getting here is not even suitable for dogs. The burritos they give us have rice and beans but the rice is not cooked. My baby cannot eat that. They give us a sandwich with lunch meat that is not cooked and is just out of the freezer. It is not edible. I cannot give that to my baby. They give us two cookies each day, one for me and one for my baby, but I have to give both of them to the baby because he can’t eat anything else they give us. Juice is not available and when I have asked for juice for the baby the officers have said, “no.” I have noticed that the guards give the juice and snacks that are for the children to those that are “working” in the cages. So in order to get the food and drinks, the people detained with me have to “work” for food. It makes me sad because my baby has always been a very good eater. But since we have been here it has been very hard because he is hungry. The best I can do is give him another bottle to calm his hunger.

We are only given mats to sleep on at about 9 pm and they take them away from us at about 5 am. We have been given two mylar blankets. The lights are on all the time and we cannot sleep because every 15 to 20 minutes the guards are yelling something out. Get up! County time! Get up!

The conditions are very crowded in the cage where I am at. There are about 75 people each night that I have been here. We sleep literally stacked on top of each other shoulder to shoulder. So many are sick. On any given day there are at least 20 that are sick. They try to separate the ones that are sick, so that means that people come and go. But not everyone goes if they are sick.

Inhumane Treatment

I am very worried about my baby. He has not seen any medical professionals since I have been here. When I have asked about getting my baby seen, the officers come and touch him and say, he is just fine. Today was the first time that a doctor or any medical professional has seen him. I have no place to watch the bottle that my baby uses. Every two or three days I try to beg the officers to give me a new one because I am worried about the cleanliness of the bottle.

I have been here without bathing for 21 days. I have seen that when we try to complain to the consulate about the conditions, then the officers want to know what we said. Then they start yelling at us saying things like, “You don’t belong here.” “Go back to where you came from.” “You are pigs.” “You came here to ruin my country.” They try to intimidate us. I have seen officers hit other detainees in the stomach and when they try to complain about it, the officers just come and says…he didn’t even feel a thing. They also intimidate us into not reporting these types of things…

What Can We Do?

Listening to these stories allows us to enter into a difficult space. In these videos we honor the stories of children separated from their families while in U.S. detention in 2018-19. We know these videos are hard to watch and they raise a lot of follow-up questions. 

As Christians, we want to stand in the gap for vulnerable children, insisting that our government always prioritize their wellbeing and protection. So, what can we do? We can advocate together that these practices are never repeated. We’ve seen the power of our collective voices before in this community, so let’s keep going.

You can watch all the videos, see common follow-up questions, and get involved in advocacy by signing your name to a letter that we will present to the First Lady in a few weeks. Click the link below to join us…