Recent accounts of migrant detention centers have been shocking and settling — none more so than the descriptions of the shelters specifically designed for immigrant children who have been separated from their parents at the border.
Reporter Jacob Soboroff recently toured one of these migrant youth shelters, and what he saw was deeply disturbing and highly reminiscent of an authoritarian regime.
Soboroff isn’t the only one who is alarmed by these conditions. Apparently, even shelter workers themselves are reaching a breaking point.
Antar Davidson, a former employee at a youth shelter run by nonprofit Southwest Key in Arizona, recently resigned from his position when he was told to separate three Brazilian siblings who had been transferred to the shelter. The three kids, aged 16, 10 and 6, were huddled together and crying. Davidson was given very specific instructions by his superiors: “Tell them they can’t hug.”
Davidson, who speaks Portuguese, describes to the Los Angeles Times how he tried to comfort the siblings as they were “huddled together, tears streaming down their faces.” Apparently, they had been told their parents were “lost,” which they interpreted to mean “dead.”
Davidson told them that officials weren’t sure where their parents were, but that they needed to stay strong.
“The 16-year-old, he looks at me and says, ‘How?’”
At that point, Davidson says he thought to himself, “This is not healthy.”
These centers have been under considerable pressure, thanks to Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy,” which has resulted in an influx of children. According to the LA Times:
Under the zero-tolerance policy, cases that had been handled administratively in immigration court were now prosecuted as misdemeanors or felonies in federal court. Migrants were charged with crossing the border illegally and separated from their children, who were placed in shelters.
“What was once a transient facility with a staff that was strained and struggling is now becoming a more permanent facility,” Davidson says, describing the establishment as “prison-like.”
The shelters were evidently not prepared to deal with this many new kids, and as a result, conditions were becoming increasingly questionable.
“[Kids] had no idea where their parents were. The case managers said it’s going to be a week until we even find their parents and another week until we talk to them. I just saw how they were bungling these cases,” Davidson says. “At that point, zero tolerance was in full swing and you could see the desperation: kids running down the hall, screaming for their moms.”
Employee quits job at for-profit child prison camp after being told to order three siblings not to hug each other.
“[they were] huddled together, tears streaming down their faces”https://t.co/WHBQ2LVwdD
— Matt Bors (@MattBors) June 15, 2018
Davidson knew that, even with aggressive hiring initiatives, the shelter wouldn’t be able to obtain enough workers to offer proper assistance to the kids.
Even though he knows that the shelters are attempting to do good and that their existence is necessary, Davidson tendered his resignation from the facility as a “conscientious objector.”
“I can no longer in good conscience work with Southwest Key programs,” he wrote in his resignation. “I am feeling uneasy about the morality of some of the practices.”