Migrant children deserve childhoods, but increasingly under the Trump administration’s stridency on immigration, their prepubescence is being robbed from them.
In the past month, two child migrants have died under the custody of U.S. border officials. On December 8, 7-year-old Jakelin Call Maquin died of Septic shock, fever and dehydration in a hospital just two days after the young Guatemalan girl was taken to a Border Patrol station. More recently, on Christmas Eve, Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8, past away, only six days after the Guatemalan boy and his father were apprehended at the border in El Paso, Texas.
Officials have referred to both deaths as “tragedies” but have absolved themselves of responsibility, placing blame instead on parents who journey north in an attempt to escape violence and poverty in their home countries as well as Congress for under-funding the agency.
“Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley after Maquin’s death.
While authorities place guilt on the victims of the country’s violent and stringent immigration laws for their own deaths, activists believe that media also induce harm by predominantly reporting tragic stories of migrant youth that rob them of their humanity.
“There is a saturation of photos depicting migrant and refugee children in anguish and terror, and that is one of the problems. There is a high urgency to illustrate the harsh conditions and mistreatment that is happening at the border and in detention centers because the larger society should know what is happening. However, when there is only those depictions plus the monstrosity of hate by this administration, then we are doing an injustice,” Sonia Guinansaca, the managing director of CultureStrike, a network of cultural workers who fight anti-migrant hate with art, writing, music and films about immigrants and migrants, told FIERCE. “ … The impact that these images and stories have on migrant communities are long-lasting. It leaves no room to show the complexity of migrant folks, and many times, it robs these children of their childhood.”
Guinansaca, who migrated to the U.S. from Ecuador when they were a kid, believes that by only focusing on tragic stories, media are helping to normalize death and violence against migrant youth. Hoping to instead center these children’s innocence, Guinansaca started #MigrantChildrenAreChildren, a hashtag that attempts to shift the way migrant children are being imagined and archived by allowing those who immigrated to the U.S. in their youth to share images and stories of themselves in their own words.
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#MigrantChildrenAreChildren…. migrant children deserve childhoods… migrant children are children… migrant children deserve childhoods…. sending love to all of us who were children when we migrated and sending love and prayers to all the children crossing now / in detention centers/left behind…Because we be children, we were children… and we deserve childhoods… we deserve to exist! Justice for Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin! 🌿🌿🌿[I’m asking migrant folks/artists to share childhood photo with the above caption for us to take back our childhood and be in solidarity with migrant children every where] #qtpoc #latinx #migrant #queer #papifemme #gendernonconforming #femmesofcolorvisibility
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“This country continues to murder indigenous, brown and Black children, so here was a gentle reminder, a gentle calling for our tiny selves and the many tiny migrant children everywhere dealing with this border-immigration nightmare, that we deserve and have a right to a childhood, that we be children, too, and that being a ‘child’ is not reserved for white American children, that being a child is not dependent on some ‘papers.’ Migrant children are children even when this country tries to rob them of that, even when the government tries to label them ‘undocumented,’ ‘illegal,’ a ‘casualty’ or just ‘data.’ These migrant children never stopped being children,” Guinansaca said.
Since starting #MigrantChildrenAreChildren on December 15, more than 140 people from across the nation have participated, flooding the hashtag with beautiful Black and brown faces and stories that the creator says both affirms the participants’ shared experiences and their own humanity.
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#MigrantChildrenAreChildren I came to this country when I was 7 years old. I was a kid, doing what my parents thought was best. I was also a kid who had things like Hepatitis in Nicaragua, as well as Varicella, and probably had head lice at least once a week because I attended a public school (plus a shit ton of other shit) and still I deserved to be here and I deserved humane treatment by anyone and everyone who came into contact with me. I dunno how we are forgetting that and I dunno why we are conveniently overlooking the basic principle of saving and protecting our next generations. shout out to @thesoniag for making this hashtag so those of us who were children when we migrated can help highlight what’s happening at the border rn. en solidaridad.
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“It’s been 20-plus years since I migrated to this country and, upon arrival, these borders robbed me of my childhood. So much trauma happened because of this immigration system. To see these childhood photos coming into our timeline was a way of getting an affirmation that I was not alone, that many of us were going through the same experience,” Guinansaca said.