Illustration by Manne Green

It doesn’t matter if you’re 30 years old or 30 days old. To ICE, anyone can pose a threat to national security.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency confirmed a rise in the number of detained infants as an outcome of the overall increase of detained family units in a March 1 statement. At least 16 infants were held at a family detention center in Dilley, Texas until Friday. ICE officers released all except for one on Tuesday.

Danielle Bennett, a spokesperson for ICE, claims the agency  “is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody.”  The evidence doesn’t support Bennett’s statement.

These infants haven’t been alive a year, and they’ve already experienced severe harm at the hands of a careless administration.

At the Dilley facility, the babies’ mothers reported their children were losing weight, showing behavioral abnormalities and having trouble sleeping. Investigations at other detention centers in Texas, Pennsylvania and New Mexico found a 16-month-old baby suffering from untreated diarrheal disease. A 27-day-old infant went unexamined by a physician until he had a seizure because of bleeding in his brain. 

The same investigations found doctors vaccinating multiple children with adult dosages. Several children had finger lacerations or fractures. Last December, two migrant children — both under the age of 10 — died while in U.S. custody. 

The pain infants and children face stays with them after their release from detention centers. They’re far more susceptible to permanent psychological harm after being released. Exposure to turbulent and unsafe environments increases the likelihood these children will suffer from mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the rest of their lives. The symptoms of depression and anxiety, already noticeable in detained infants, will only be exacerbated. 

This is unacceptable. Babies shouldn’t be tormented by PTSD. Children shouldn’t have to live with the debilitating effects of avoidable mental illness.

Problems like these get worse the longer a child is detained. The 1997 Flores Settlement limited the amount of time minors could be detained to 20 days. At a detention center in Texas, a 10-year-old was held for 58 days, and a 6-year-old for 45 days.

The U.S. cannot claim to be the land of the free when it detains children before they take their first steps. It cannot claim to be the home of the brave when our leaders spout hateful and fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrants.

In September 2018, the Trump administration publicly denounced the Flores Settlement and proposed to terminate the legal protections the settlement provided to children in detention centers. President Donald Trump’s contempt toward immigrants is unsurprising, and the complete absence of compassion he has for children is deplorable.

“Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” Trump said at a pro-life rally in January 2018.

If that’s the case, why would he and his administration so blatantly disregard the lives of infants and children in their custody? Claiming to be “pro-life” while detaining children and denying them proper care affirms the inconsistent and hypocritical morals defining the Trump administration.

While conservatives vow to protect embryos to cater to evangelical voters, they ignore the lifelong trauma detainment inflicts on infants and  children.

The number of babies detained is only a small fraction of the more than 40,000 people held in detention centers. We can’t allow ourselves to become desensitized to this information. One infant detained at the border is one infant too many. It’s clear that ICE and the Trump administration are more concerned with carrying out a xenophobic agenda than ensuring public safety.

In Santa Cruz, it’s easy to feel like we’re powerless in stopping ICE from detaining infants and children. But we can fight for the legal protections of minors being held in detention centers by demanding that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security uphold the Flores Settlement. We also need to support advocacy groups like Physicians for Human Rights that work to secure proper medical care for these kids. We should take these steps while engaging in a larger fight to abolish ICE. 

We won’t ensure the safety of our country by endangering the safety  of children.