Friday, May 22, 2015

Susan J. Terrio's "Whose Child Am I?"

Susan J. Terrio is Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University. She is author of Judging Mohammed: Juvenile Delinquency, Immigration, and Exclusion at the Paris Palace of Justice and Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Whose Child Am I?: Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody, and reported the following:
Page 99 gets to the heart of the key issues of U.S. immigration policy and the treatment of undocumented minors after their apprehension by American authorities. Although unlawful entry is a civil, not a penal, offense these youth become ensnared in two separate and convoluted federal systems: mandatory detention in closed facilities and removal proceedings in immigration courts. The government becomes their legal guardian while at the same time prosecuting them for immigration violations. We should ask ourselves if automatic detention is necessary to ensure the protection of a vulnerable population? What due process rights do detained child migrants have under U.S. immigration law? Despite the frenzied media coverage of migrants flooding across the U.S.–Mexico border in 2014, little is known about what happens to them in federal custody or how the U.S. government got into the business of detaining children and youth. This is the story of a legal tug-of-war between the constitutional protection of individual rights regardless of legal status and the government’s interest in border security. This tension affects new migrants as well as those who were brought as children and spent their formative years in this country.

Page 99 describes the experience of Orlando, an undocumented Mexican teenager who came to the US at the age of nine. He turned sixteen in an Arizona reform school where he was sent after adjudication for an assault. When he completed his sentence with a clean record a juvenile judge ordered his release. Instead, immigration authorities re-apprehended him and transferred him to a Virginia juvenile prison under government contract that holds undocumented minors deemed to be security risks.

This page describes my tour of that Virginia prison where I saw the central surveillance monitors, empty classrooms, and immigrant boys confined to their residential “pods” because the facility was on lockdown. The deputy director explained that this was due to problems with the two prison populations: the “domestic” and the “federal” youth. Orlando’s clinician described him as “one angry kid.” He knew that as a U.S. citizen he would have been released to his family after “doing his time.” Instead, he was sent to a real prison, this time with no set endpoint, far from his family, and facing the real threat of deportation to a country where he had no family.
Learn more about Whose Child Am I? at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue