I got to talk with Feliberto’s (El Pastor's) daughter two days ago. She works in one of the detention centers for unaccompanied minors. She was eating lunch at his house, and graciously offered to chat even though she was on her lunch hour. She described a situation at her facility that is quite different from what we are seeing in the news. She described a pretty orderly, though maybe a bit of a sterile, situation. She is the medical coordinator, so interacts closely with doctors, nurses, and sick kiddos. I’m going to do a quick Q&A format here, putting in answers as if she is speaking, though admit these are not exact quotes.
1. How long are the kids in this facility?
It varies; usually at least a month. Some are there for several months. These are unaccompanied minors, meaning they are kids younger than 18 who cross the border without adults. We go through a careful vetting process of their sponsors. We don’t release them until we have learned as much as we can about the safety of their sponsor.
2. Are there very young children who are cared for by older children?
The very young children I know of are actually accompanied by their mothers, who are also very young. I have two young mothers with small babies right now.
3. How many children are in your facility?
350. I work for Comprehensive Health Services, a company based in Florida. We just got a contract to expand to over 600 children. I think the plan is to be able to have 650 children by the end of July. They put the new houses together incredibly quickly.
4. How do you know if a child is sick and needs medical attention?
Every child has 3 people following him or her: a case worker, someone who is investigating their sponsor, and (something else…which Glover is forgetting). We have a lot of contact with the kids. These kids come across the border, and many have been traveling for weeks. They have not been eating well - and may have been malnourished for most of their lives. I have an 8-year-old who is 48 pounds. They are also dehydrated. So, yes, the kids need help and they don’t improve right away. There is also a cultural barrier. We try to get those who are underweight on high-calorie drinks, but they don’t see this as normal food to eat or something they should be doing.
Right now, we also have teachers, but I heard those were going away and that we didn’t have the funding for that anymore. I am not sure about that.
5. Why do you think it is so different in other facilities? The NYT article about Clint, the recent report from the US Inspector General seems to confirm it is pretty bad in some places.
There are definitely differences across facilities. I can only tell you how things are working for me. My husband works in another detention center, and the way they distribute medicine is totally different. It matters who is running the particular facility.
She described - granted, in somewhat bureaucratic terms - a place that is well-run, carefully following these kids, and not much at all like what we are seeing in the news. I believe her. I think it is unquestionably warehousing children, which I think is wrong on its face. I think the Trump administration is deliberately making this a million times more awful than it should be - mostly by dehumanizing these brave, scared, and hungry people. I also see that the situation of so many children crossing the border without adults is challenging.
Some of you are asking me if my views on the issue of immigration are changing or my point of view about how to help is changing. I am trying to hold that at bay, actually. I still feel like I am learning so much, and also very clear that I am seeing a tiny little sliver. Here are a couple things that feel clear, though:
- People need jobs that provide them enough income to live with dignity. One mother told me that her rent went up, and she had to start deciding whether to feed herself or her child. There simply was no way for her to stay afloat.
- People need to live and work in a system of law that ensures they can be physically safe and keep and spend what they earn. The system of law has to make extortion a rarity rather than a norm. It has to ensure the government doesn’t steal from people or wreck the economy such that currency is destroyed.
Most of these people don’t want to leave their families or their homelands. They have relatives who are getting killed, their children are getting kidnapped, their wages are getting garnished by gangs.
What would you do if a gang leader told you you had to turn over 10% of your wages or he would kill your child? You would run. And do everything conceivable to protect your child.
Let us all be instruments of peace,