From the outside, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton doesn’t look like a hellhole. What goes on inside?

Governor Ralph Northam has ordered state authorities to investigate allegations that guards at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center beat and otherwise abused children held at the immigration detention facility. The claims, if true, are shocking and must be addressed immediately.

Allegedly, teenagers were restrained, handcuffed, and made to sit with bags over their heads. Some were stripped of their clothes. Some were locked in solitary confinement, some beaten, left with bruises and broken bones and kept shivering in concrete cells. Frankly, I find the accusations, included in a federal civil rights lawsuit, hard to believe. But Northam is surely right to look into the charges. If they are accurate, such treatment cannot be tolerated, and someone needs to be held accountable.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. immigration authorities accused the children of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13. But a top manager at the Shenandoah center said in recent congressional testimony that they did not appear to be gang members, and that they were suffering from trauma suffered in their home countries — problems the facility is ill-equipped to deal with.

That observation suggests that if the charges are true, critical context may be missing from the lawsuit and sworn statements. Perhaps these teens are prone to outbursts of anger and violence. Perhaps the detainment center lacks appropriate facilities for handling such behavior. Perhaps staff was at wit’s end on how to maintain order. Whatever the case and whatever the mitigating circumstances, we need to find out what’s happening and fix it.

Permit me a philosophical observation: The United States is a sovereign state and a nation of laws. We decide through the political system who is allowed to enter the country and who cannot, and then we enforce the laws. We may or may not like the laws, but we don’t get to pick and choose which ones we enforce. (Got that, sanctuary cities?) The principle of enforcing the law applies both to immigrants who enter the country illegally and to the law enforcement authorities themselves. There is no excuse for beating and abusing detained immigrants.

I would feel much more comfortable with hard-line immigration-control policies if the people who espoused them didn’t also demonize the would-be immigrants. I don’t blame Central Americans for wanting to escape the horrors of their home countries or even to make a better living by entering the U.S. any way they can. If I were in their shoes, I might well do the same thing. Their predicament warrants sympathy and compassion. But that doesn’t give them the right to enter the country illegally. The world is full of miserable, abused and suffering people. We can’t take them all. If we catch people entering the country illegally, we treat them humanely… and then send them back. If we don’t like the laws on the books, we change them.

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11 responses to “No Excuse for Immigrant Child Abuse”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” I would feel much more comfortable with hard-line immigration-control policies if the people who espoused them didn’t also demonize the would-be immigrants. ”

    When you got the leader of the country demonizing immigrants, what do you expect from those who see his words as motivation for their actions?

    People say in his case that words don’t matter…he’s just mouthing off and what counts is his actions.

    Really? This is far beyond dog whistles… he is encouraging the worst instincts in some people who see his words as support for their behaviors.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Your points about Donald Trump are absurd.

      1) The alleged mistreatment of young people at the Virginia detention facility began during the Obama Administration while McAuliffe was Governor of Virginia.

      2) It is firmly established through photographs that the Obama Administration (and even the Bush Administration before that) used the same style of detention centers as is being used today. Rachel “the con woman” Maddow can bawl on television over the supposedly harsh treatment of accused illegal immigrants in detention centers under the Trump Administration but most people are wondering where the “water works” were during the Obama Administration. Ditto for Nancy “float like a butterfinger, sting like a tree” Pelosi.

      3) At best you might (erroneously) state that Trump demonizes illegal immigrants. However, as has become usual for liberals, you conveniently forget the “illegal” adjective. As it turn out President Trump is married to a legal immigrant.

      4) Please provide the words where President Trump demonizes immigrants. This yet another baseless claim.

      Larry, you spend a lot of time criticizing Republicans for having no plan for health care. I many ways I agree. What is the Democratic answer to illegal immigration?

    2. I agree with you, LG, those who listen to Trump hear his emotional tone not his precise words. But Jim goes way beyond the “demonizing” to the question of moral relativism that always bothers me about immigration enforcement, best summed up by Jim’s statement: “Their predicament warrants sympathy and compassion. But that doesn’t give them the right to enter the country illegally. The world is full of miserable, abused and suffering people. We can’t take them all.” When that Syrian refugee with the doctorate in biochemistry applies for asylum and we turn him down, it seems to me we are being stupid about our own economic future. Even those refugee families from Eritrea or Honduras who have only their manual labor to offer would make a net positive contribution to the economy according to everything trustworthy that I’ve read.

      But even if you oppose admitting them on population-growth and assimilation-difficulty grounds, there’s the question of our moral obligation to help abate the humanitarian crisis of all those refugees with no place else to go. There’s also not a little moral guilt in the developed world from not stopping the Syrian fighting in the first place, through the U.N. or unilaterally. This is what motivated the EU and Canada and Australia to admit Syrian and other refugees, but Poland, Hungary, most of the Balkans, Turkey and Greece, and now Italy, and arguably the UK too, have each rebelled at the burdens of this policy, Germany’s Merkel notwithstanding. The question is, do we feel that moral obligation to admit a substantial number of world refugees simply because they are refugees? This question goes beyond the simple dictates of what our current immigration laws require; admitting refugees is discretionary under our existing laws, and normally left to the Executive branch. Of course Congress could change the law (if it can do anything these days).

      Jim moves to a very different topic when he says, “If we catch people entering the country illegally, we treat them humanely… and then send them back. If we don’t like the laws on the books, we change them.” Sounds simple, right? First of all the immigration laws are not all that clear but filled with exceptions and carve-outs for those who petition for asylum or other special status, and their status is in limbo pending disposition of these claims. Second, most illegals did not cross the fence but came here legally and then overstayed their visas — sometimes remaining while convinced they were here legally pending some other claim.

      Third, I have considerable sympathy for the “overstayed with cause” claim by the young El Salvadorean with younger child who comes here to apply for asylum and did everything she was told; the law is written on the presumption that the decision will be made on the spot, across the table from the applicant — but she learns that due to the backlog of applications and the cuts in INS budgets and cuts in border judiciary she is expected to wait 18 months for a ruling, in a US hotel or even return to El Salvador, and during that 18 months she cannot work legally in this country. We wrote the law touting its fairness, then we crippled the process as a de facto repeal but left the framework on the books; then we blame people for not following the process laid out in the law?

      And then we treat these children in ways we’d never treat another citizen, only one step removed from the way we treat the inmates at Guantanamo.

      Bleaughh! This topic is headache material. Trump adds nausea to the mix.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Yep, the AP story says the feds started parking juveniles awaiting deportation or some other outcome in that facility in 2007. So they were there all eight years of the Obama Administration.

    If you were to read every inmate complaint or lawsuit filed against the Department of Corrections you would likewise assume that DoC was running hellhole prisons. Most fall apart on investigation. These might or might not as well, but they are serious allegations and warrant a full probe – and heads should roll if they bear out.

    Trump has been blowing shameless, racist dog whistles but our immigration system has been broken for decades and as was shown again yesterday, Congress (on both sides) is incapable of dealing with it. Democrats have their own dog whistles going full blast. The Democratic plan, DJ, is let them all in and register them all quickly as voters. Worked well with the Irish….

    1. djrippert Avatar

      I suspect that there was misconduct at the detention facility. However, some things that sound strange are not as odd as they seem. For example, putting “bags” over prisoners’ heads is often done to stop a detainee from continuously spitting on those who are nearby. I hope Gov Northam gets this investigation done quickly so we can get to the bottom of this.

      As for the influx of the Irish, my Mother, of the Coughlin clan (Aged 90), still drives and says she’ll be happy to come see you with yardstick in hand to help you better understand the contributions the Irish made to the United States.

      As for the Dems, it sure seems like they want open borders. Of course, they won’t just say that because they’d lose too many seats in the next election. Instead, they pass immigration laws and then cry like teenagers when the President tried to enforce those laws.

      1. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        My grandmother of the Wexford Murphy clan informed me plenty about the contributions of the Irish. My point was simply they got quickly recruited as voters.

  3. No question, the air is filled with dog whistles these days. People (including the media) who loathe Trump’s persona and tactics are happy to pile on at this moment of apparent weakness — cf. Larry above. But, I’d say Trump’s handling of the immigration issue overall has been appalling from the get-go and merits no defense from anyone here. The system has needed reform ever since Reagan bought us time and opportunity for a fresh start with his amnesty and we squandered that momentum in subsequent decades. As on health care and education, there really are voters out there who want progress on these perennial stalemates and they will vote in the other Party if this one can’t hack it. #Frustration!

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    “Third, I have considerable sympathy for the “overstayed with cause” claim by the young El Salvadorean with younger child who comes here to apply for asylum and did everything she was told.” That argument falls apart.

    An asylum claim is based on being in a bad situation where the government or rebels, for example, are threatening the individual involved. The person believes he/she must leave the country and seek asylum. Most countries have laws permitting such a person with reasonable proof to stay in such country either permanently or temporarily.

    But a person in El Salvador claiming a need for asylum doesn’t need to go to the United States any more than he/she would need to go to Canada or Great Britain. A true asylum claim should be made in the first country where the affected individual arrives after leaving her or his nation. For virtually all of these people from Central America that is likely Mexico or even another Central American nation – say Belize for example.

    So we aren’t really dealing with bona fide asylum claims. We are dealing with people who want to come to the United States for economic reasons – a reason that does not justify asylum. The left just wants open borders – something most Americans don’t want.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      TooManyTaxes –

      Thanks for your sanity on this particular issue du jour. More on ideologue driven meme cascades and heuristics later.

      Meanwhile, I miss the distinguished 19th century Gentleman who’s been replaced by that odd potato shaped critter who’s topped with a lady’s garish fan to the left of your call sign.

      Is that critter floating or spinning? What the hell is it?

      Is it Bacon’s idea?

    2. TMT, as usual you are right, of course it’s both the need to get out of El Salvador for safety and the economic choice to try for asylum in the U.S. rather than Mexico. It wouldn’t bother me so much if we followed our own law and staffed the asylum desk and courts properly and got rid of the backlog by rejecting such asylum claims promptly and consistently and with due process. But even now, under DT, a lot of these applicants are, in fact, ultimately granted asylum. It’s a capricious lottery that rewards a substantial number of the many who apply. Why the hell can’t Congress write a new law that sends a rational and consistent message of “don’t try” back to where these folks are coming from?

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        We need to have rational laws and apply them fairly. And a person with credible evidence of conditions that trigger the ability to receive asylum should be given a fair hearing in a reasonable time period. But that calendar need not be shorter than the timelines in our judicial system where one has a constitutional right to a speedy trial. If you come to the United States without proper papers, expect to sit in a detention facility for some time. I’m damn sick and tired of people putting illegal immigrants ahead of American citizens – even those charged with a crime.

        As you correctly suggest, there also needs to be a mechanism that quickly dismisses cases and deports individuals who don’t have evidence sufficient to warrant a hearing. As many know, in law, a case can be dismissed for failing to provide facts that are sufficient to state a claim. You don’t get a hearing because you have no evidence that could support your claim. I suspect, but do not know, many (maybe most) applicants for asylum don’t have any credible evidence that they meet the standards for asylum. A self-serving claim without back up evidence needs to be rejected. Keep in mind that there are many other countries where the individual can seek asylum.

        And we cannot have a plan that grants residency to long-time, good-conduct individuals who are here illegally unless and until we control the border. Otherwise we have open borders that encourage more and more illegal immigrants to come.

        Most, but not all, illegal immigrants are poor and poorly educated. Many seem to be very hard workers. When these people come they bring both a depressing effect on wages for Americans at the bottom and a huge need for government services that, in turn, require cuts to other programs and higher taxes. We need well-educated, highly skilled immigrants irrespective of their race, ethnic background, religion or gender. We don’t need more poor people.

        Larry likes to point out that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – something that often rings true. If it makes sense to expand Medicaid to give people access to preventive services to avoid expensive care later or to provide education to young new parents to avoid the need for expensive intervention later on, doesn’t it also make sense to stop the need for expensive government services by keeping out low-skilled, poorly educated illegal immigrants?

        As I’ve written many times, we need to get crushingly hard on businesses that hire people not authorized to work in the United States. Any company that cannot prove it used E-Verify for 100% of its hires should be restricted in deducting employee compensation for tax purposes to only one half of what it spent. Companies and their principals that do not use E-Verify and require their subcontractors to do the same should be barred from any federal contracts for five years. Dry up the jobs and we dry up much of illegal immigration.

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