Last summer, thousands of children poured across the Southern border of the United States, alone, scared, and desperate to escape violence, conflict, and crushing poverty in their home countries in Central America
. This year, a fight is brewing over what happens to migrant children once they’re in the U.S., and whether agencies tasked with caring for them can deny them important health care services.
Last year alone, 68,000 children were caught crossing the border. By law, those children have to be cared for until they’re deported or allowed to stay. While children wait in limbo, their living arrangements can vary from placements in foster homes to jail wings, which means some young people are stuck for weeks — or even months — in lockdown for trying to find a better life.
Unaccompanied immigrant children are vulnerable on a mind-boggling number of levels. Most of them speak little, if any, English; they are often crossing to reunite with family members that may live thousands of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border; and, they’ve been at the mercy of the traffickers to guide them along the trip. Worst of all, there’s a good chance they’ve already been brutalized along the way. Recent estimates
suggest between 60 and 80% of women and girls crossing the U.S. border from Central America are sexually assaulted at some point on their trip.
Care of these children is subcontracted out by the government to Catholic charities (charities that pull in some $10 million a year in federal funds to run facilities). And, as federal contractors, they’re required to follow federal law, including providing access to a full range of healthcare, from emergency contraception to abortion. A recent lawsuit by the ACLU alleges they might withholding that care and wants to know how widespread the problem might be.