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More than 14,000 migrant kids spent their Christmas in U.S. custody sleeping in shelters

Junie Sihlangu
Dec 26, 2018
10:41 A.M.

US government detention and processing centers are currently holding more than 14,000 migrant toddlers, children, and teenagers across the country. They all spent Christmas in custody.

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The children have been forced to spend the holidays away from their loved ones.

Confidential government data showed that 5,400 detained migrant children in the US were sleeping in shelters. The same shelters also house more than 1,000 other children.

There are also 9,800 detained migrant children who are in facilities with more than 100 other children. This is the first Christmas that some of the children will spend away from their families.

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For more on this story go to our Twitter account @amomama_usa. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials revealed that they would accommodate families and children over the holidays.

They planned on hosting traditional celebrations and religious services. However, because of strict visitor regulations, no one can truly verify the actual conditions in the detainment centers.

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Despite this, a great number of advocacy groups are working hard to give gifts, Christmas cards, and messages of hope to the migrant children and families in federal custody. ICE shared that they would have special Christmas-themed events for families in their “family restoration centers.”

ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett said in a statement:

“To celebrate Christmas, ICE family restoration centers have incorporated a number of special events, extra religious services, and treats for children that are currently housed in family restoration centers.”

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She added:

“Each family restoration center has been adorned with Christmas decorations, especially in housing and medical units, the cafeteria and in common spaces. Each facility has a Christmas tree. One facility’s school put on a Christmas performance. Facilities have increased arts and crafts times, so children can make paper ornaments, cards and Christmas gifts.”

New legislation was introduced by Democrats this month. The “Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act” was introduced in the House and Senate and it orders the HHS to immediately close two unlicensed facilities.

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It is sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu and Sen. Jeff Merkley. The senator explained the need for the legislature saying:

“Children belong in homes, schools, and parks_not behind barbed wire. Our taxpayer dollars are being used to traumatize children by keeping them in a child prison camp instead of in the arms of their families.”

Someone who knows firsthand what the centers are like is Cecilio Ramirez Castaneda. He is a Salvadoran whose son, Omar, 12, was taken from him when they were apprehended in June under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

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The policy led to nearly 3,000 children being separated from their families. Speaking of the experience Castaneda said, “It’s a pain we will never get through.”

His son had feared that Castaneda had given up on him during the five months he spent in a Southwest Key shelter in Brownsville, Texas. When he was finally reunited with Omar last month he discovered that his son had been hospitalized for depression.

The pre-teen had also been medicated for unclear reasons and suffered a broken arm while in government custody. The father said:

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“It’s a system that causes irreparable damage. My son says they would tell him that because he wasn’t from here, he had no rights.”

In a tragic outcome, a Guatemalan boy named Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8, died while in custody with the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Alonzo-Gomez had been admitted into a New Mexico hospital and released, but then he was re-admitted again.

He passed away shortly after midnight on Christmas morning.

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