Talking Points

Trump is gone. America's appalling treatment of migrant kids continues.

"House Democrats, who led an angry charge against the Trump administration's treatment of migrant children, have taken a much quieter tack since concerns began emerging about conditions at some of the emergency shelters set up by the Biden administration to deal with minors at the southern border," The New York Times reported Monday. Their reasoning, Democrats told the Times, is the Trump policies were deliberately cruel, while the Biden team, "trying hard to deal with a bad hand," will be receptive to backchannel worries from allies.

Maybe Democrats are right about this change of heart. The problem is the concrete circumstances of many unaccompanied migrant children continue to appall.

If we needed a reminder, a Monday report from Reason provides it. "More than 4,500 immigrant children and teens are being held in enormous, filthy tents on a military base in Texas without access to basic necessities, including underwear, ... medical care and physical safety," writes reporter C.J. Ciaramella. The magazine obtained access to secret recordings of a training for staff of the facility; in it, staff members say they are shorthanded, frustrated, and struggling with worker retention despite high pay. The trainer can be heard acknowledging cases of "staff with minors inappropriately" — the context suggests allegations of sexual assault — and describes a tent dorm as "dirty," with "wet spots all over the place."

Because of its location on military property, this camp "is not open to the public or press," and the Biden administration reportedly plans to expand it to hold up to 10,000 migrant minors. (There are about 20,000 migrant children — and counting — in government custody as of mid-May.)

It's true the Biden team is working under real political, legal, and practical constraints here: Border crossings are up. The COVID-19 pandemic isn't quite over. Current law requires these children to be placed in shelters, but the quality of extant facilities varies widely. Public interest in immigration reform is fading.

Yet if the mistreatment of migrant children deserved loud, relentless objection in the Trump years — and it did — it deserves the same now. "Peace, peace," congressional Democrats say, when there is no peace.