In February 2015, author Wil S. Hylton detailed what he called the “American Nightmare” of Obama-era “refugee camps” — which went virtually unnoticed by the pundits and activists now outraged by law enforcement’s handling of migrant children at the U.S. border.
The raging immigration policy debate that has ignited Hollywood and forced a partial retreat from President Donald Trump is nothing new. It just hasn’t been much of a debate — until now. Hylton’s exposé centers on policies that former President Obama enforced over the entirety of his two terms in the White House.
In Hylton’s words, Obama sought to leverage children to “put a gentler face on U.S. immigration policy.” In a single year, more than 61,000 “family units” entered the United States from Central America, along with approximately 51,000 unaccompanied children.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told a Senate committee, “We have already added resources to expedite the removal, without a hearing before an immigration judge, of adults who come from these three countries without children.”
His words to the families were just as clear-cut: “Then there are adults who brought their children with them. Again, our message to this group is simple: We will send you back.” Artesia Mayor Phillip Burch recalled Johnson telling him something similar as well. “His comment to us was that this would be a ‘rapid deportation process,’” he said. “Those were his exact words.”
Hylton’s article describes refugees “stranded” and unable to know when they would be released. One woman’s daughter, “sick and losing weight rapidly under the strain of incarceration,” was threatened with being force-fed through a feeding tube if her mother could not make her eat.
“I mean, I had seen kids in all manner of suffering, but this was a really different thing,” said one volunteer. “It’s a jail, and the women and children are being led around by guards.” Detainees described sleeping eight to a room, in violation of the “Flores agreement” regarding the treatment of minors in custody. “Gaunt kids, moms crying, they’re losing hair, up all night,” attorney Maria Andrade remembered, describing her visit to the camp.
Other descriptions were no less horrifying. “A symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing,” with “kids vomiting all over the place.” An “outbreak of fevers” which “sent an infant into convulsions,” and scourges of “pneumonia, scabies, lice.”
So what did Obama do?
He had his attorneys fight against the notion that the Flores agreement applied to children in detention with their families. Arguments that their treatment were unjust were rebutted by Department of Homeland Security lawyer Karen Donoso Stevens, because “the juvenile is detained — is accompanied and detained — with his mother.”
The court rejected their argument. Obviously, that means the children’s care improved, right? Wrong. According to Hylton, “the administration suddenly announced plans to transfer the Artesia detainees to the ICE detention camp in Karnes, Tex., where they would fall under a new immigration court district with a new slate of judges.”
The stories continue, but they are not new ones. The biggest difference now is that something is being done about it — and that it’s being talked about.