Kids Describe the Fear of Separation at the Border

Jeremy Raff, The Atlantic,
Jun 30, 2018

who experienced the “icebox” say they didn’t know if they would see their
parents again.
a 9-year-old girl, described her experience spending days in a detention center
at the border. Jeremy Raff / The Atlantic
Texas—At a shelter for migrants just released from detention, 9-year-old
Paulina sits in front a volunteer reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar aloud in
Spanglish: “On Friday, he ate through five naranjas.” Paulina sat quietly with
her books most of the afternoon.

is one of the lucky ones. The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy
separated roughly 2,500 children from their parents in recent weeks, but not
all families were split up. In the absence of an official explanation,
advocates speculated that border agents
left some families intact
for lack of detention space, instead
releasing them with GPS ankle trackers and a court date. After release, Border
Patrol sends some of them via bus to the Catholic Charities Respite Center,
where they can get a hot meal, new clothes, diapers, and even new shoelaces,
which authorities confiscate during incarceration as a precaution against
suicide. Then, the immigrants board Greyhound busses for points north while
they wait to see an immigration judge. Most will plead for asylum protection to
stay in the country, a process Trump has derided as a “loophole
that his administration has sought to curtail even before
migrants reach the U.S
arriving at the respite center, Paulina and the other children spent days in a
detention center like the one where an activist captured audio of children
crying—a recording
that quickly crystallized outrage against the separations. “They caught us,” a
5-year-old Honduran girl named Ashley told me. “They took us to a hielera,” an
icebox, which is how migrants widely refer to chilly government processing
centers. Ashley said agents held her in a different room from her mom. “I
missed her and I cried for her,” she said, “I love her.”
14, explained that he slept on the floor with a thin blanket that only “covers
you a little.” They ate cold sandwiches, apples, and milk. He told me he feared
being separated from his dad, but ultimately they were kept together.
As the
sun went down, Paulina walked with a group of migrants to the bus station. The
11-floor Bentsen Tower loomed over the low-slung buildings downtown. Just days
before, in the 8th-floor federal courtroom, mass trials for illegal entry had
separated dozens of migrants from their children. This week, a judge
the government to reunite
more than 2,000 children
still separated from their parents, and to
do so within 30 days. But that does not mean they will be released while they
wait for their asylum hearings. In a court filing Friday night, the Trump
administration gave its
latest indication
it intends to keep families detained indefinitely.
For the
moment, Paulina and her mom seem cautiously optimistic about their arrival in
the United States. The buses idle outside the station, and Paulina opens a
book. “I feel calm because we’re here,” she said.