Horrific Realism of Refugee Children’s Experience at the US Border

By | News

Before screening of Icebox (2018) at the IC weekly lecture, Professor Kif Augustine-Adams (J. Reuben Clark Law School) began her presentation with a quote from Matthew chapter 25 verse 40: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” In addition to teaching in the law school, Professor Augustine-Adams co-founded the school’s Refugee and Immigration Initiative which brings law students to US border camps to help detained women and children to prepare for their court hearings and interviews. One of the initiative’s main focuses is helping people seeking refugee status to pass their Credible Fear Interviews. These are interviews conducted by the United States Government to determine whether someone can safely be shipped back to their hometown without fear of death or harm if they cannot, they are allowed to stay in the United States to continue their pursuit of refugee status. 

Professor Augustine-Adams recalled a harrowing story of a student who was working with a mother and young son. In order to keep the child busy while his mom relayed the horrors she was fleeing, the student drew a few circles on a piece of paper and asked the young boy to fill in the circles with people’s facial expressions in the camp. He began with his mother and the student then he moved slowly to others. He drew many faces before he was suddenly notified that his personal court hearing was just scheduled to take place in less than an hour. The student then had to help him prepare his statement. He decided to say, “If my mother needs to be sent back to our hometown, I want to stay in the United States. I will miss my mom, but I don’t want to die.” While telling this story, Professor Augustine-Adams tearfully displayed the drawings that this young boy made.

The images in Icebox, she said, are extremely realistic. The only unrealistic part, according to her experience with the camps, is how easily and quickly the Hondurian boy’s detention is resolved while in real life, and especially after the current US Administration removed the time limit on keeping children in detention camps people often stay much longer. Previously under the Flores Settlement, a law which established standards of care for migrant children, children could only be detained for twenty days before being released. As of August 2019, there are no longer time limits on detention. A human, no matter how young, now can be kept in the camps for an indefinite period of time. She added that the depictions in the film are not as bad as the real conditions for people today claiming, “This was back in the ‘good times.’”

Prof. Augustine-Adams makes the point that people’s rights–and specifically children’s rights–are being taken away at every level in this process. They no longer even have access to education and English classes as of June 2019, so now children just sit idly with nothing to do for days, weeks, and months on end. She urged people to get out and vote, to contact your elected officials, and reach out to your neighbors. Children should not be forced to represent themselves in court as the young Hondurian boy does in Icebox.

To end, she shared a lyric from Lila Down’s Clandestino: “If we don’t fight for the children, what will become of us?” https://youtu.be/jHn5DJPdgEY