As part of its crackdown on illegal immigration, a so-called “zero tolerance” U.S. government policy by the administration of President Donald Trump was implemented April 7. It allowed immigration enforcement agents at the U.S.-Mexican border to detain migrants trying to enter the country without proper authorization, such as visas.
In most cases that is a misdemeanor and those found guilty are subject to detention and deportation. However, some migrants were also reportedly detained as they claimed to be seeking asylum. Under U.S. law, asylum seekers, including those fleeing their homeland claiming persecution, are allowed to apply for U.S. residency. They are entitled to court evaluation to determine if their reasons for seeking asylum are valid, in which case they would be granted U.S. residency.
Trump has also publicly declared that migrants trying to enter the U.S. without proper authorization should be deported without a court hearing.
So far, not many from the Caribbean nationals have been caught in what has now become a heated political battle in the U.S. smeared by outrage, controversy and confusion. Protest against the U.S. government’s actions have erupted across the country.
As of early June, however, only one Caribbean child – a Haitian – had reportedly been forcibly separated from its parents at the U.S.-Mexican border.
However, more than 2,000 children have reportedly been ripped from their families. They came mainly from nations such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Others have arrived at the border from Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Romania, Venezuela and Vietnam.
A few hundred children have reportedly been reunited with family, but the location of many detained children is still officially unknown. There are also reports that the U.S. government has requested use of military bases to house detainees.
The government’s policy of separating children from families was blasted by a cross-section of U.S. society, including senior members of the two main political parties – Republican and Democratic.
“There is no act lower than ripping innocent children from the arms of their mothers,” Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke told the Caribbean Media Corporation on June 17.
“We have hit an all-time low as a people and a country. It is one of the most inhumane, cruel acts that could ever be taken by the Trump administration.”
The political fallout forced Trump to reverse his administration’s policy, at least on paper. As of June 20, the U.S. agreed to no longer separate children from their family via the president’s executive order. But up to press time confusion over implementation reigned and reports lingered that children were still being separated. Later in the month, a federal judge in California ordered that children be united with their family within a maximum of 30 days.
Meanwhile, the relatively miniscule number of Caribbean nationals among the number of migrants affected in the controversial policy has not prevented some observers from believing it could happen to them as well.
“It not just affects Mexicans,” April Ryan, a veteran journalist who covers the White House, said on CNN June 19, “it affects people from other nations to include Haitians, to include those from the Caribbean, Guatemala, Honduras.”
Ryan linked the Trump administration’s immigration policy to targeting a specific race of the migrants seeking to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Most Caribbean nationals are non-white.
“The president talked about the infestation of illegal immigrants,” she said. “That is racial. You cannot walk around that any kind of way. That’s racial.”
People of Caribbean heritage also believe certain immigrants are being targeted by the Trump policy.
“As a second generation American, the daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, I take these assaults on immigrant communities personally,” said Clarke.
Meanwhile, Trump’s decision to issue an executive order didn’t ease all concerns. It did not cover children already separated and failed to immediately outline how they would be reunited with families.
Observershave expressed concern about the conditions under which the children in government custody are being held, with some detention centers described as “cages”. There were also reports that children were being abused, with some held in places where they’re exposed to lice, bed bugs and chicken pox. Audio recordings carried sounds of weeping children begging to be reunited with their parents.
Some , including the U.S. State Department, fear the children will suffer permanent psychological damage if they are not reunited with their parents soon.
However, up to press time, the U.S. government was also unwilling or unable to publicly disclose where some of the separated children are being detained, especially young girls and babies.
It may not be possible to reunite all the children with their family, since some are too young to offer authorities help in finding their parents.
In addition, supporters of both major U.S. political parties are still furious that Trump and members of his administration lied about the policy in the first place. In announcing the policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made clear that children could be separated from parents who were detained as a way to deter illegal immigration.
Yet Trump and other administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, for weeks repeatedly insisted that only the U.S. Congress, not the president, could stop the separation of migrant children from their families. They claimed that the law did not allow any other option. Trump eventually retreated from the policy created by his own administration by issuing the executive order.
That didn’t totally solve the problem or outrage, including sparking protests. Trump, some observers believe, is keen on attacking immigrants, especially if they are from countries not predominantly white, ahead of U.S. elections in November.
“So this is a bigger piece and, again, it’s about race and it’s getting that (Trump political) base to galvanize for the mid-terms,” said Ryan.
Some believe Trump will find other ways to attack immigrants, including those from the Caribbean.
“This administration has no bounds, even children don’t seem to matter,” Clarke said.