The Real Truth about Immigration and the Children at the Border


Araceli De La Torre Marin, OwlFeed News Managing Editor

The Zero tolerance policy is an immigration policy that was put in place by the Trump administration “which prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.” 

Even though the administration officially scaled back the harsh enforcement of the policy in 2018, a lot of damage occurred and has continued to occur.

 By law, the US is legally allowed to detain immigrants for 72 hours, but that is not the case with this situation as immigrant families have been detained for days, weeks, even months isolated from their children and family. 

They have been stuck in a crowded room with a lack of hygiene, food, and many more essential items. Despite not having much freedom, in a few detention centers, immigrants can go outside but only for a while. 

According to USA Today in 2019, it was reported that 4,556 children have said they were sexually assaulted while in the care of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for the past four years. 

According to the policy statement, the ORR agency has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior to all care providers that house unaccompanied alien children.

 Around 13,000 so-called unaccompanied migrant children stay in the ORR custody for about three months at shelters before they are released to an adult sponsor, while they wait for their date in immigration court. 

The government’s 135 migrant shelters are considered an unsafe environment. What people are not understanding is the effect they are inflicting on these people. There are children as young as five months old who have been in these cages.

According to Aljazeera, a 3-year-old girl was in the arms of her father for three weeks seeking asylum only to be separated from him by the government border agents. The 3-year-old girl had been sexually assaulted in US foster care, soon she was deported. Nearly six months later the father was finally able to see his child, but she would not even look at him when she got there, let alone hug him, thinking he had abandoned her. After the assault happened, the now 4-year-old girl had started urinating in her bed, refused to eat or drink. Her father found out about her assault during his time in detention. 

Thousands of people are being affected, mentally, and physically as well. This also affects children’s innocence and development.

According to BBC News, it was reported that there had been six children dead in the cages in 2019 and more have been dying in custody. There have been thousands of children missing, that were separated from their parents and their families. Just this past week there have been parents of 545 children missing.

Photo Credit: Olivier CHOUCHANA

I’ve interviewed a couple of people speaking about their own experience. The first person that I interviewed was willing to answer some questions but requested to remain anonymous.

 He is a 44-year-old whom I will refer to as Carlos. Carlos came to the United States at the age of 16, alone. I asked Carlos why he came to the United States.

“We were very poor, looking for a better life,” Carlos said. “I was the oldest of my siblings; I had to come to the United States to make money to send it to my family back in Mexico. I rented a house for my mom to live there. When I first arrived in the United States, I stayed with my uncle, who lived here.”

“Because the jobs we have, it pays very little, only to buy very little food to eat, there was not enough food for us at times where we would go to sleep hungry,” Carlos continued.

Carlos said he worked as a mechanic’s assistant in the market of asbestos and discharging trucks up until he was 16. 

When asked why he did not do the paperwork to come to the United States legally, he said, “It cost too much money that I did not have, and it would take years even to consider getting approved. Plus, I was only supposed to stay for a short time.” 

He said he had never been deported in his 28 years of living in the US.  Lastly, regarding his education, Carlos said,  “I went to school until I was 12 years old and a year in high school because I could not afford to go to school.” 

I also interviewed Jossy Gonzalez, a 24-years-old, who on September 28, 2019, was taken by Immigration along with his parents, uncle, aunt, and 12-year-old cousin. His mother was released after 2-3 weeks, his aunt and uncle a month after, and his cousin was released that same day.

 He was able to get them out by looking for an attorney but would at times seek other attorneys because they would lose hope in releasing his mother as he was over 21 years old. 

Because of their young children, his aunt and uncle had hoped to soon be released.  Because I could not speak to his parents or uncles and aunts or the children, I asked Jossy Gonzalez about that day and what had happened.

 He said that the officers did a thorough body check when they got stopped at the  immigration border. His parents had told him that they would not feed them for the first couple of days. One of the immigration officers was Chicano, who did not want to feed Gonzalez’s family. However, there was another immigration officer that did but was not allowed to provide them anything. 

He said that women and men were separated, but when his mother and her sister got to their cell, they were also separated. 

Jossy talked about why his mom came to the US at age 17. “My grandma sent her. My mom never wanted to come to the United States, she wanted to stay home with her parents and siblings. Nevertheless, my grandma sent her first, knowing that my mom has 12 other siblings, some older than her. My grandma sent her and not her older siblings to take care of my aunts and uncles. My dad came to the United States because my grandpa sent him to work.” 

When asked about how he felt when his family was getting taken away, he said, “I was frustrated, upset. I had a lot of anger in me because of the way they grabbed my uncle, my uncle was the first one to be grabbed…it got me really mad, the way they were mistreating him. 

“I saw my mom, how they took her; it hurt me because I saw how my little cousins were crying. After all, they saw their parents getting arrested. They could not find me in the system; they supposedly thought I was a narc and bringing illegal people-immigrants inside.”

His mother told him a story that happened during her time in the cage about an 18-year-old girl that killed herself while in detention. “The [other migrants] there were punished; everyone got punished for one person,” his mother told him. “They take away their blankets, they do not feed them for that day, dinner, nothing, they lock you up, they punish you really bad. 

Then Jossy moved on to talk about the environment. “It was cold for them. For my mom, her health condition is bad, she told me it was really cold when I got to see and touch her, she did not feel warm to me she felt cold — like she was really cold water,” he said. “There is not good healthy food, they give you expired food…The showers are cold water, they will not take you to take a warm shower like at home you would take a warm shower…There is no shampoo or anything.” 

Do they give migrants clothes? “There are different colors depending on what rank, what level you are. If you are orange, you are mental, you are not safe for other people. If you are a low level like 1, that is the brown, you have done nothing bad,” Jossy said

Jossy’s mom told him a story that was written about a teen mother and her few months baby, where she mentioned that it was so cold that she struggled to keep her baby warm and feed her.

Although I could not get every detail from Jossy or his family, I also interviewed someone who was there that day, my sister, Selene Rubio Marin, to give us her view on things.

Selene Rubio Marin, 25, was with Jossy when they took his family. I had asked Selene to describe what had happened that night when Jossy’s parents were getting arrested. 

Selene, Jossy, and his family were heading back home. They didn’t take the road they usually take. She was confused about why they weren’t but Jossy told her there had been an accident. So she didn’t worry, they were having fun listening to music and going over the hill that they forgot that they were taking the usual route they usually take. She asked again if we were going the right way, Jossy was reassuring her just as they were turning, she saw something even before they turned. 

 “There was a truck and looked further, and there were police officers and Immigration,” Selene said. “I was asking him, ‘What are you doing? Let’s turn around,’ and his mom was saying, ‘No, we do not have anything to hide,’ and I started freaking out…I was like, let’s turn around; let’s turn around, let’s turn around. Jossy was like, ‘No, let’s just go.’ I was thinking of everybody else; I was not thinking of myself. I was thinking of his mom, mostly his mom and his aunts, and everybody else.”

they were stopped, they asked if they all had their documents. Selene, by mistake, said yes. Selene was nervous speaking to law enforcement. They asked them a series of questions, which she answered. She was only asked for her license, nothing else. 

So one by one, they took everyone.  She had the urge to cry but was able to compose herself as they came back with her license. When they came back, she blurted out, “I’m not from here” as they assumed she was, because she looks like a caucasian, they thought she was lying and got upset. 

Selene tried to keep the conversation civil, she gave them her card, so they would check that she was not lying. They ran the card to see if it was legit and it came back as expired. When they informed her, she freaked out, as it was not possible, she still had time left. 

She called her mom and told her what was happening and how her card was expired, her mom was confused as well since she also knew that she had time left on her card. She was defeated. She came around with the idea that she was leaving with them too. Although she had some peace in mind that Jossy’s mother would be leaving with Jossy since she was working on her documents.

However, Selene was worried about the rest of his family, that they were going to take them. They were taking them, but not Selene. She was confused. She asked what was happening and they told her it was something in the system. She asked the authorities a series of questions such as, where they would be taking them and what will happen to them, which they ignored. They started asking her questions about Jossy’s family, such as their record and where they lived.

After answering all the officers’ questions, she headed towards Jossy trying to calm him down because she knew it would go worse for his family. They were not allowed to go back in the car to retrieve their stuff. They didn’t let him get water. After an hour later Jossy and Selene were released to go.  

At this point, Selene was in tears.

Selene and Jossy had to say goodbye to his family, who had been waiting outside. Jossy had been the only one who had seen the inside of the room. “We were going to say goodbye,” he said. “I saw them, I saw them in cages. It was really hard because it is shocking that they are actually in there. They did not have them sitting down somewhere without cages; they actually had them in cages.”

It had been traumatizing for Selene to see. Although they weren’t her family, she still cared for them, especially Jossy’s mother.

The moment she saw them, she broke down; she managed to keep herself composed speaking with the police but seeing them in cages, she couldn’t handle it anymore. It was when she finally processed that this was real, that it wasn’t a horrible dream. 

She was trying to figure out what they would do, what the next step was. They couldn’t take the child with them, Jossy’s 12-year old cousin. When they were heading to the car, Jossy started crying. Selene felt powerless, hopeless. She didn’t know what to do, she couldn’t fix it and bring them home.

She had mentioned that the officers were polite towards her. However, Jossy said that his family and he were being mistreated. 

Selene knew she was traumatized because it took her a while to go out of state after that. She went out with her friend to Las Vegas, and she has been to las vegas before, but the route they took, she started freaking out, it was not the usual route she takes, this was not the right way, she thought. 

At this point, Selene was mentally preparing herself to get stopped again and to re-live everything. She texted Jossy and told him, “I want to go home, I don’t want to be here,” and Jossy was trying to comfort her through the phone. When they were heading back, they took a different route, and she started to freak out; she told her friend that she needed to be distracted because she was getting flashbacks. Now, whenever she goes out of state, she sends Jossy her location. 

So when Selene and the family were heading to Texas, she was panicking the whole ride. When they got stopped, she freaked out because her mom was here. She thought, “What if something goes wrong?” She feared for her mom.

Being taken from your family and being the person seeing your family taken is traumatizing. The cages they put people in are horrible. There are cages where they only have room to stand. There are cages in many places, like in south Texas. People are dying, or getting arrested, starved, beaten, and mistreated because of their roots, because they were not born in the United States, because of their skin color, because they wanted a better life for themselves and family. 

That needs to change. If not for you, then for the children that are going missing, children that are dead, people that are separated from their families.