Opinion: Media needs to pay more attention to the migrant children suffering under American custody

Author Michael Arceneaux discusses the horrifically high death rate of migrant children held in U.S. detention centers, and why this story “should feel more dominative in the press than it appears to be.”

Recently, NBC News’ Nicole Acevedo asked what most reasonable people would conclude to be a question of great urgency: Why are migrant children dying in U.S. custody?

As she notes in her opening paragraph, at least seven children have died while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection since 2018—after nearly a decade in which no child reportedly died in immigration custody. Some, like the most recently known child, Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, have died of the flu; others, like 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, lost their lives to a “rapidly progressive infection” that shut down vital organs. Ultimately, the specifics of their deaths don’t matter when they share a common cause: the failure of the U.S. government to treat migrants —migrant children!—as full human beings deserving of basic common decency, much less any measurable form of compassion.

Jakelin’s life might have been spared had she not been sent on a 90-mile bus ride to be separated from her father. And if, when she complained about vomiting and feeling ill, she wasn’t forced to wait an hour and a half to receive emergency medical care. Carlos could have been here, too, if he’d gotten proper medical attention. So could the others.

What makes this information even more stomach-churning is knowing that more children could have died.

As we have learned from the reporting of NBC New’s Jacob Soboroff, last July children between the ages of 5 and 12 were kept overnight in vans during botched attempts at reuniting them with their parents. It is not surprising that child separation, already a despicable action, begets more vileness. This time because of dangerous travel arrangements, but how infuriating all the same.

In response to Soboroff’s story, Jeh Johnson, who served as Secretary of Security at the Department of Homeland Secretary under the Obama administration, said, “I’m appalled. I can just envision children being stuck in a van for hours and hours. And, can I say that I’m surprised? Frankly, no.”

Many of us are not shocked because we know the administration is headed by a racist bigot who thinks the darker this country gets in its citizenry, the less valuable that citizenry becomes. That it taints who they believe belongs here—people who look like him. To achieve this goal is to apply as much cruelty as possible in their policy. As some have eloquently articulated, with Donald Trump and the Trump administration, the cruelty is the point.

Representative Greg Halden, the highest-ranking Republican in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told NBC News, “To now learn that children as young as 5 years old were left in vans for more than 24 hours is simply indefensible…I expect a prompt explanation from the DHS and HHS about this failure.”

Does anyone believe a Republican will actually bring any part of the Trump administration to heel for its poor treatment of migrants? It is my belief that none of those craven politicians latching onto power in that administration will ever take on the president on his favorite issue, no matter how repugnant the policy is. And they all know it.

Not to mention that Trump and his minions are supported by a vast conservative media complex in which racism and xenophobia are part of the business model; the crueler the measure, the better it is received. To wit, recently, Fox News Brian Kilmeade praised Hungary’s far-right leader Viktor Orban for the extreme measures he’s taken to keep out Siberian migrants—including building physical barriers. According to Kilmeade, “Maybe Hungary was the smartest. When they saw the illegals coming, they put up a wall.”

Orban believes his plans for “ethnic homogeneity” are vital for economic success.

Sound familiar?

This is why these children are dying. Because one side has made it abundantly clear that their intentions will be achieved no matter who suffers. After all, they don’t care about those children much anyway. For those migrant children who have not died, Trump has done as much as he can to make their experiences as miserable as possible.

The Washington Post revealed that the Trump administration is “canceling English classes, recreational programs, and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide.” Citing the immigration influx at the border—which, by the way, can largely be traced to U.S. involvement in Central American countries over decades—The Office of Refugee Resettlement has opted to stop funding for anything “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation.”

These kids cannot even play soccer because they’re locked up in cages and separated from their parents.

I feel awful for the migrant children that have died because of racism and gross incompetence. I feel equally as awful for the children being locked as prisoners now and being stripped of whatever joy they can manage to find. But I do worry that the longer we become used to the idea of this country having, effectively, concentration camps where little kids can end up dying, the more apathetic we might become. I say that because this story should feel more dominative in the press than it appears to be. And President Trump’s approval rating should be far lower than it is.

I know what I can say about Trump and DHS and ICE and Fox News, but when it comes to people on the GOP side, shouldn’t there be more urgency? I hate to think of what that says if there’s not. We always hear that America is better than this. America should show up already and prove this.

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