Kids in US Immigration Detention Ask Santa for Freedom

  • A child detainee and her letter asking Santa for "freedom"
    A child detainee and her letter asking Santa for “freedom” | Photo: ACLU

“Dear Santa Claus, I want a present and that present should be my liberty,” wrote one 2-year-old facing his second Christmas behind bars.

The Obama administration refuses to release children held for a second year in the notorious Berks immigration detention center, despite a federal court ruling that they should be immediately released into the care of family members in the U.S.

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Seventeen mothers and their 19 children, all fleeing the violence of the U.S. war on drugs in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, remain in the controversial Pennsylvania facility as they await an appeal to the Supreme Court about the legality of their detention and deportation orders.

“This is a very sad, very painful time (for) my son,” one mother told The Guardian. “I knew I couldn’t trust my own government in Honduras, that they wouldn’t protect us. But we came here to the United States of America thinking that this was the home of human rights, that we would find protection here. I never dreamed we would be treated this way.”

This single mother, whose 2-year-old son Said has now spent almost half his life behind bars, has been jailed by the Obama administration for 422 days, sharing a single room with two other mothers and their children.

Said wrote to Santa, “Dear Santa Claus, I want a present and that present should be my liberty.”

“Dear Santa Claus. I am a girl who has her whole life ahead of her and I want the same freedom as any other girl and on this day, the only thing I ask is to be with the person who is waiting for me on the outside and that person has a very tiny heart (referring to her baby sister),” wrote another child detainee.

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Yet another wrote, “I want to get out of here with my mommy.”

While many have expressed deep fears about President-elect Trump’s plans to deport millions, these mothers and their allies highlight the ongoing cruelty of the Obama administration’s immigration detention policy.

“We’ve been asking for two and a half years why Obama and his administration are so recalcitrant in detaining children. It is 100 percent his administration that put family detention on steroids and it is 100 percent within his power to end it,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, an immigration lawyer representing many of the Berks families. “Obama has paved the way for everything Trump is now threatening,” she added.

Numerous studies have identified the severe damage Obama’s indefinite detention policy inflicts on children, from PTSD to depression and suicidal ideation, all of which have been documented in the children held at the Berks facility. Indeed these findings led to a recent federal court ruling which ordered the immediate release the children held at Berks into the custody of U.S. relatives, an order which the Obama administration continues to violate.

“We are not criminals or delinquents to spend so much time in a prison. My son doesn’t want to be here, the only present he wants is to get out. Every day he watches the visitors arrive in their cars and he shouts at them through the window: ‘Take me away! Take me with you!’” Amaro said.

Given the intransigence of the Obama administration, advocates have recently focussed their efforts on state officials to step in. Earlier this week, they staged a demonstration outside the detention center calling on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to issue an executive order to close the facility in compliance with the federal court ruling.

In one final letter shared with the Guardian, one child wrote, “Dear Santa, I love computers, PlayStation, go to the beach, video games, but in here it’s not allowed. That’s why I want my liberty. I also love roast beef pupusas. I’m 6 years old.”

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