I have been biting my tongue since your last letter, Ms. Hamilton, but I let it go since others had already rebutted it. However, since you are still equating jailed Americans to the imprisoned migrants, allow me to clarify the significant differences between the two.
When an American breaks the law, 1) They are given due process. They are given a public defender if they can’t afford their own. Depending on the crime, they can pay bail while they wait for their trial. Overall, they have a certain amount of legal rights.
2) Equally important, odds are they speak English, or another common language. Trials won’t proceed until there is a translator, if needed.
3) True, the children don’t go to jail with the parents. Instead, they are placed with a spouse or relative. Someone they know. If there is none, then they are sent to a foster home.
4) Even when sent to a foster home, there is a paper trail. Telling who the child is, who their parents are, where they both are currently located, and how to get in contact with them. Also important — a foster home has actual blankets. And hopefully, the experience is not like being trapped inside a crowded Walmart for 22 hours a day.
So how is it different for those caught crossing the border? Well, for starters, if they are seeking asylum from domestic or gang violence, it’s not actually breaking the law! International and American laws give asylum-seekers certain rights. Including not being detained indefinitely. But let’s continue.
1) Although they are supposed to be given due process (despite Trump’s desire not to), they are often not given a public defender if they can’t afford one. Those who do have defenders are probably working pro bono. Assuming those lawyers can even find where the trials are being held. If it’s in some unknown remote area, then those migrants are on their own.
2) Extremely important is most of these migrants do not speak English. Many of them don’t even speak Spanish, but niche regional dialects like Guatemalan or Mayan, for which we do not have enough translators. So is their trial delayed so that they can understand the court proceedings? Of course not! It’s full steam ahead, even if it’s getting them to sign a deportation paper completely in English, choosing whether they want to be deported with their kids or by themselves, even though such a thing is supposed to be against the law. Hope they blindly choose the right one!
3) In previous administrations, families were kept together. Because they are being separated now, even when the child is under 1 year old, you would think maybe the kids would be sent to relatives living in the USA. No. They all go to holding facilities, whether it’s abandoned Walmarts or tent cities in the desert. Or God knows where else, since the administration and HHS is trying so hard to keep all of this secret.
4) Many of these separated migrant kids have no paper trail. What are their names? Who are their parents? Where are the parents and the kids separately being held? Who knows! There’s certainly no database or ID system to keep track. Maybe the 4-year-old who doesn’t speak English or Spanish can draw a picture that leads her back to her family. In the meantime, she’ll get a Mylar blanket and sit in a cage with other crying kids, waiting for her two hours of sunshine outside.
At least, until her trial. Did you know they are deporting the kids too, even without their parents? Can you imagine a preschool, elementary or middle school student defending themselves in court? Often without a lawyer or advocate? Maybe not even a translator? Trying to ask them why they left their country, or what the names of their parents are? What if they’re not old enough to speak in full sentences? Do you think that makes a difference in their trial?
What is happening here, despite all of the chaos, is very simple. The United States government took 2,300 children away from their parents, sometimes away from their own siblings, and then covertly flew them across the country with no plan on how to reunite them.
It is traumatic and cruel and inhumane on every level. Those migrants will live with this pain for their entire lives, and history will judge us harshly for it. This is not what love or compassion looks like. It is an ugly stain on our country, and on the characters of those who defend it.
Jade Smith is a resident of Kailua-Kona