The Ideology Behind Child Abuse in US Custody

By Yenny Delgado

Credit: Associated Press/David J. Phillip

From the start of Donald Trump’s campaign to run for President in 2015; he focused on immigration on the southern border. His attention was not in addressing the rationales behind why individuals were immigrating to the United States or seeking asylum.  

Rather Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists¨. Yes, he presents all migrants as Mexicans and forgot the other 32 countries who are of the southern border of the USA. 

This opening salvo of white supremacist ideology language on the campaign has been transformed into divisive and horrible policies at the southern US border that represents some of the most horrific misdeeds in our nation’s past.  

Starting in April 2018 the Trump Administration began a policy of “zero tolerance” under the auspices that through cruelty and inefficiency fewer individuals would migrate and wish to claim asylum in the United States.  Due to pressure from activist and investigative journalist the government was forced to reveal to what extent the zero-tolerance policy been carried out.  Investigations revealed that the Trump administration had been placing people in cages in what were called “detention centers”, separated children from their parents/guardians and had not adequately tracked the parent or the child for a timely reunification process.  

The images of the centers were terrifying as they showed children sleeping on the floor wrapped in aluminum foil to stay warm, while others were kept in separate sections of the facilities via cages.  Most heartbreaking from this early reporting was the screams of children crying for their mothers and screaming for their fathers.  The sounds of infants and toddlers that didn’t know their name and could only cry be being crowded into cages with individuals of various different ages.  The reporting shocked the society for a couple of weeks and then as things invariably go the news cycle moved on.  

The news media and the political class came down with a case of “Mueller Report Fever”, awaiting the next insight or information.   However, on the southern border, the country was engaging in nefarious actions to the most vulnerable of all people.

Recently, our collective alarm to the Southern Border was raised again, though this time it was from a Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.  She said:

“This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying”, “The fact that the concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing.”

Her remarks were swiftly rebuked by commentators on both the right and the left, because it was considered an insult to compare centers located on the southern border, with the concentration camps used by Germany against Europeans Jews in the second world war.  

But what is the plan of the US government with the separation of families? 

Border Patrol facility in Nogales, Arizona

Foto: Ross D. Franklin/AP

According to the investigations, the increasing cruelty on the southern border has been implemented in order to satisfy Trump’s re-election rhetoric and also to please his base.  In this way, Trump can show his conservative backers that he is using a strong hand in dealing with the immigration crisis.  To detain all the individuals seeking asylum the administration has contracted with several companies and non-profits and to understand policies and actions it is always important to follow the money.

The government has been contracting with Southwest Key, a nonprofit in Texas founded by Juan Sanchez in 1987, and it has received over $1.5 billion in federal contracts over the past decade.  In 2018, Southwest Key received $626 and Mr. Sanchez personally earned a salary of $1.5 million over that 12-month period.  Southwest Key can now house up to 5,000 children in its 24 shelters, including a converted Walmart Supercenter that has drawn criticism as a warehouse for youths. 

Other organizations who offer their services charge the government $775 per day to treat the children in inhuman conditions is GEO group, a private-prison company.  Last year they generated about 45% of their revenues in three security levels, immigration detention centers, security detention centers, and mental health and residential treatment facilities.  One of their key employees is Dan Ragsdale who was formerly Deputy Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The GEO group has been the subject of civil suits by prisoners and families of prisoners for injuries due to riots and poor treatment.  

Last Monday hundreds of people demonstrated outside of their facilities in Florida to honor immigrants who have died either during a border crossing journey in the desert or in ICE custody.  

That both the Southwest Key and GEO group are receiving a considerable amount of funds from the US government to hold immigrants and asylum seekers in inhumane conditions should be unconscionable to all citizens.  Additionally, for former government officials to transition from public office to then joining large private corporations that receive major government contracts should also raise major red flags.  

How the administration is dealing with the crisis at the border appears to be enriching the same companies and investors that have also benefitted from the mass incarceration of black and brown people across this country. As the days pass, every day hundreds of more children have been forcibly separated from their families.

For the Trump Administration to pay the Southwest Key and GEO group millions of dollars to maintain children in inhumane conditions and to cancel $370 million dollars in humanitarian aid away from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (where the majority of asylum seekers are coming from) – should give pause to every human!  

Essentially the US government is no longer interested in addressing the causes of the massive waves of immigration.  Rather the Trump administration prefers inhumane conditions, harsh rhetoric and to increase the bottom line of private corporations.  

What is behind “zero-tolerance”?

Trump’s rhetoric and as well as his administration’s record is full of racist actions and comments, whether in reference to the Central Park 5, Mexican immigrants, Gold Star Families, Muslim Bans, or the current policies on the southern border.  His actions reflect truly the ideology of white supremacy and humiliate people because he believes that he is superior because he is white; and under this ideology, he is making decisions.  President Trump clearly is unable to remember that when his mother immigrated to this country with $50 as a domestic work to Long Island, NY she too was an immigrant, and for him, this was not a problem.  

Moreover, it did not bother him that two of the three women he married were immigrants because was again they were white; thus it was not a problem. He does not have a problem with immigrants, he has a problem when the immigrants are not of European descent.  If those thousands of girls and boys at the southern border were white this would not be happening, and they would not be kept in the same inhumane conditions.  The ideology of white supremacy is the basis for the majority of the policies of this administration and to those willing to clearly look at facts and the history of the nation it is evident.  

 Mike Blake / Reuters file

A quick look back at the country history, clearly illustrates how ideas of superiority led to the dehumanization and death of other groups:

  • Native Americans: These individuals have no soul – Thus, it is ok to kill them all and take their land. Later we can take their kids to border schools and civilized them.
  • Africans: These are not even really human beings – Thus it is ok if we enslave them, rape the women and those children born of violence can serve as an opportunity to earn more money/property, and then force them to build the country. 
  • Migrants and Refugees:  These people are all rapist and terrorist – Thus, it is ok to hold them in pens a holding area like animals.  We can separate their families and abuse their kids, stay in a cage and from 2018 no have to plan for what to do with them only keep traumatized.

What Trump is doing is not the first time that this country has acted in inhumane ways to individuals who were not considered white. Thus, many of the arguments proposing that the actions are against the values of this country are not correct. As demonstrated above the country has been built on dehumanizing non-whites to build a cohesive nation of a heterogeneous group of European descendants in the country.  

Trump’s border policies echo the same actions taken by the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt in May 1939.  In that year a boat full of German Jewish children were seeking refugee status in the United States, but the government denied them entry.  Later the majority of those passengers were killed in concentration camps and gas chambers. 

In 1939, Germans who professed their religion as Judaism were not considered white and thus not permitted entry into the country. However, British children were considered a priority for saving and there were no quota limits placed because they were considered white at the time.  Over the years the definition of the country of who is considered “white” has changed but the ideology of white supremacy has not. The Trump administration has used white supremacist ideology and unfortunately it is in keeping with this country and its value system.


What are the facts on the ground?

Based on the facts revealed by various means and the last statement of Congresswoman Ocasio – Cortez, these centers are full of minors against their will and the number of people exceeds the maximum capacity of occupancy according to safety regulations.  Many of the centers do not meet decent sanitary conditions to serve thousands of children.  Most alarming is the number of violence, beatings and sexual abuse by caregivers and guards that the US government is paying for through the corporations they contract with.

Based on the data shown by several reports, we can describe and represent the following facts:

  • Sexual abuse of minors – 4,500 complaints in four years about the sexual abuse of immigrant children who were being held at government-funded detention facilities. (Source)
  • The children are in crowded facilities and sleeping on the floor with aluminum foil. (Source)
  • Hundreds of children have been imprisoned s deliberately in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, separated from their families against their will, and without having the opportunity of legal assistance. They are in the center’s infants for months, two years, four years until sixteen.
  • In some of the centers, the lights are illuminated 24-hours a day, 7 days of the week, disrupting circadian sleep cycles for all the concentrated individuals. (Source, video embedded)
  • The children have restrictions on food and basic sanitary supplies. (Source)
  • The temperatures in the facilities are kept cold. (Source)
  • The US government does not keep very accurate information on the names of minors and their parents at the time they were separated, making it almost impossible to reunite them with their families. (Source)
  • Individuals have been marked on their arms with identification numbers, however, due to similarities with practices in Germany in the 1930s wrist bands with numbers are now provided.(Source)
  • 24 immigrants have died in ICE custody, seven children have already died in the custody of ICE (Until June 9, 2019)

                 7- May 20, 2019, Carlos Hernández, 16 years old                                                  

                 6- May 14, 2019, Wilmer Vásquez, under 3 years old

                 5-April 23, 2019, Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16 years old

                 4-December 24, 2018, Felipe Gómez, 8 years old

                 3- December 6, 2018, Jakelin Caal, 7 years old

                 2- September 29, 2018, a child under 10 years

                 1-Junio x, 2018, Mariee Juarez, 1-year-old

We know the story of how zero tolerance can lead to committing atrocious traumas against the most defenseless.  Indeed, this is the true story of the United States in how it has treated the most vulnerable populations.  

Now that we have the reports of what is happening, our silence is complicity and is time to name what under the administration and order of Trump, the United States has been financing concentration camps on the southern border and what is the ideology behind of these actions. To remain in silence is to commit children and parents to their death and the blood will be on all of our hands. 


About Yenny Delgado

Yenny Delgado is a psychologist, theologian, development specialist, and political analyst. Follow @dc_yenny

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