Migrant youth detained by US immigration authorities in child internment centers are being forced each morning to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in English out of “respect” for a country that separated them from their families and does not want them.
According to a Washington Post report, some 1,500 boys being held at the Casa Padre child detention center in Brownsville, Texas, a former Walmart store that is now the largest such facility in the nation, must stand and recite the loyalty oath to the country that is actively depriving them of the “liberty and justice for all” described in the pledge.
Some of the children — and many critics of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy against undocumented immigrants — have asked why they must recite the pledge.
“We tell them it’s out of respect,” one Casa Padre employee told the Post on condition of anonymity.
That respect is often a one-way street. Families who fled violence and poverty in Mexico, Central America and even South America and beyond, and who then survived the harrowing northbound journey to the US border, were suddenly separated once in Customs and Border Protection custody. In scenes one would expect to see in a film about the Nazi Holocaust, some parents were told that their children were being taken away “for a bath.” They never returned.
According to the Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, many shocked parents were not given any information about where their seized children were taken. Not only do many parents have no idea where their children have been sent, the government itself has also struggled to keep track of where they all are. The Department of Health and Human Services recently admitted it could not account for some 1,475 unaccompanied minors who had illegally entered the US last year.
Where do the seized children go? Initially, many are held for days in the now-infamous cage-like holding cells that have shocked the world’s conscience. Some are placed in foster homes. Others are held in cold, institutional shelters where their caretakers are prohibited from hugging them. To date, more than 2,000 children have been sent to far-flung corners of the nation. Often their parents have little or even no idea where they are. Conditions vary widely, from sprawling suburban homes where individual children await their fate in relatively comfortable yet alien surroundings, to crowded, scary shelters where many children have contracted chicken pox, lice and bedbugs.
Sometimes family breakups have proved too much to bear. Marco Antonio Muñoz, a Honduran man separated from his wife and 3-year-old son after illegally crossing from Mexico into Texas last month, strangled himself to death while imprisoned in a Starr County jail. Justin Tullius, an attorney at Raices, a nonprofit migrant resource group, told the New York Times that his group has worked with “parents who have shared suicidal thoughts and who have attempted to take their own lives because of the experience of detention.”
Supporters of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy have sought to downplay the trauma and suffering inflicted by family separation. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter and others have called the detained children “actors.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who has three children of her own, has described the child detention centers, which she has never visited, as “essentially summer camps.” Demonization and dehumanization of undocumented immigrants — who Trump, who launched his presidential bid by calling Mexicans “rapists,” says “infest” the US — has long played well among a large portion of the conservative base.
However, some Republicans have joined Democrats and other critics in blasting the administration’s policies and actions, which leading child experts including American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Colleen Kraft have called a form of child abuse.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-F) called family separation “unconscionable.”
“It is totally unacceptable, for any reason, to purposely separate minor children from their parents,” Diaz-Balart tweeted. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) implored Trump to “immediately end” such separations. Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that “all Americans are rightfully horrified” by what’s happening to innocent migrant children and their parents.
The Pledge of Allegiance has always gushed with hypocrisy — when its current iteration was adopted in 1954, millions of black Americans could not vote or even drink from the same water fountains as white people. Millions more Native Americans, LGTBQ people, women, religious minorities and others are to this day denied the “liberty and justice for all” lionized in the pledge. And while American schoolchildren have been compelled to recite the pledge, sometimes unconstitutionally against their will, forcing children who are essentially prisoners of the US government to vow loyalty to the flag of their jailer and tormenter is indeed unconscionable, absurd and downright perverse.