Politics

Trump admin officials forced a five-year-old child, separated from family, to sign away her rights

EL PASO, TX - JULY 24: A man, identified only as Tomas, holds hands with his daughter, Yessica, 13, as they are cared for in an Annunciation House facility after they were reunited yesterday on July 24, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. Tomas and Yessica, originally from Guatemala, were reunitd at an I.C.E processing center two months after the two were separated when they tried to cross into the United States. It is unclear if a court-ordered July 26 deadline will be met for the U.S. government to reunite as many as 2,551 migrant children ages 5 to 17 that had been separated from their families. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Five-year-old Helen is just old enough to learn how to ride a bike without the use of training wheels. The Trump administration apparently also thought the migrant child, who had fled with her grandma Noehmi from Honduras to the U.S. in July, was old enough to sign a legal document that waived her right to an important court hearing.

Helen’s story, detailed by The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman, had been gut wrenching enough already. When gang members threatened Helen’s uncle, the family fled north, traveling “thousands of miles, sometimes on foot.” At the border, the child nearly drowned crossing the Rio Grande by raft. Helen survived, but only to be separated from Noehmi. Officials then told her Helen would be released to her mom, Jeny, who was already living in the U.S. But that was a lie.

When Noehmi was fitted with an ankle bracelet and released, she rushed to Jeny’s home to see if Helen was there after all. She wasn’t. “The next day, authorities—likely from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (O.R.R.)—called to say that they were holding Helen at a shelter near Houston; according to Noehmi, they wouldn’t say exactly where.” It was in ORR custody where Helen was then handed a legal formwhich waived her right to a Flores hearing, a crucial judicial process that could get her released earlier.”

“On Helen’s form,” Stillman reports, “which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, ‘I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.’ Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.” Helen would be kept in custody for two months before officials finally released her to Noehmi and Jeny, but not before needing the help of non-profit LUPE and leading advocates to flood officials with messages calling for her freedom.

Helen’s complicated story, which you should read here, of bureaucratic red tape, coercion, and intentional roadblocks represents just one child’s experience here, but the Trump administration stole thousands of children from families at the border, in state-sanctioned kidnapping that has traumatized countless lives. “Lately, at bedtime, Helen hides in the closet and refuses to go to sleep,” Stillman continues, “afraid that her family might leave her in the night.” This is a horror show. 


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