A heartbreaking story uncovered by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker has brought even more attention and outrage to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy in regards to illegal immigration. The policy, which resulted in the widespread separation of thousands of families, was supposed to be reversed earlier this year.
But for 5-year-old Helen, it wasn’t.
In an effort to escape threats of gang violence in their native Honduras, Helen and her grandmother Noehmi traveled a perilous thousands of miles before finally reaching southern Texas. There, the two were separated, with Noehmi being told that Helen’s mother, Jeny, would soon be able to retrieve the child.
After connecting with Jeny, Noehmi learned this was not the case. Helen was brought to a shelter where she was given classes and crafts projects, often asking when her grandmother would come to get her. Per the Flores settlement, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge. The hearing would have likely increased her chances at being swiftly released from detention and reunited with her family.
But, on a form filled out with assistance from officials, Helen waived her right to a hearing:
there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.
Officials took the 5-year-old’s signature as valid, despite likely not comprehending at such a young age what she’d agreed to.
Here is a contract, designed for children, with an option to forfeit their rights, that 5-year-old asylum seeker Helen practiced spelling her name on. https://t.co/CTBdfeFVui pic.twitter.com/1Xj39n7RwZ
— Sean Lavery (@SeanLavery) October 11, 2018
Now, Americans are expressing outrage at actions they view as deceitful and downright cruel.
This is literally evil. A 5 year old signed a contract forfeiting her rights and was immediately put in foster care. Perhaps those of us who believe the Bible calls on us to welcome strangers should be especially outraged https://t.co/hnfEvhECeN
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) October 12, 2018
This is just ridiculous and besides being utterly disgusting is in flagrant breach of international law. On what other country on Earth are 5 yr olds required to sign legal documents, presumably with no legal representation or translators present?
— Alan Morse Davies (@AlanMorseDavies) October 12, 2018
the ongoing tragedy of this, being done by our govt in our names, is unspeakably evil. All else is secondary.
— VoteNov6! (@avanb2) October 12, 2018
A 5 year old’s contract. And our douche canoe president fiddlefucks with Kanye while his asshat wife talks about bullying. What are we? Who are we? pic.twitter.com/1JSUh8CTnU
— Todd C. Toral (@tctoral) October 14, 2018
Many are in sheer disbelief that a contract signed by a five-year-old for whom English is not the first language could ever be presented as legally binding.
We’re talking about a 5 year old? I was with a 5 year old last weekend who cried for a half hour because she wanted a milk shake and didn’t understand the NO part. How can any adult sleep at night giving a contract to a child and getting her to sign it?
— Jenelle (@jenelled12) October 12, 2018
trump thinks a 5 year can sign a legal contract. Oh wait, he is a 2 year old.
The Five-Year-Old Who Was Detained at the Border and Persuaded to Sign Away Her Rights https://t.co/gTCIDiYwUe
— Glen Moore (@wyldcdn) October 14, 2018
How much more ridiculous can this get? So, now, why can’t ANY 5 year old enter into ANY contract?
— Curlyn (@Curlyn13) October 15, 2018
As is easy to imagine, the contract resulted in complicating Noehmi’s search for her granddaughter even more.
In a court hearing that granted Noehmi more time to apply for asylum in the United States, she and other relatives asked for more information as to Helen’s whereabouts.
“Judge, this case doesn’t stop here,” Delgado said. “What about the little child lost in the system?”
The judge looked confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, where is Helen, the five-year-old?”
The judge, Delgado recalled, seemed startled. Both he and the government prosecutor had no idea that Helen existed, let alone where she was being held.
Noehmi’s attorney, Eugene Delgado, frantically searched for Helen–invoking the help of numerous caseworkers and other officials. After finally learning of her placement, Noehmi was allowed short weekly phone calls with the child and, eventually, visits while the child was in foster care. They would not be reunited permanently for months.
The case appears to confirm what has concerned many: that the family separation policy is still very much alive and only more covert. In addition to blaming President Donald Trump, many believe responsibility for the inhumane actions also rests on U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, is still the Secretary of Homeland Security. She made family separation official U.S. policy in April. In fact nobody has been fired for enacting or carrying out this policy, only protesting it.
— Resistbot (@resistbot) October 10, 2018
This Administration is amoral. I hope all involved in the separation & incarceration of these children will be brought to trial for their crimes against innocent asylum seeking babies & children. POTUS, Stephen Miller, Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly, Jeff Sessions, Alex Azar, etc.
— KayJay (@KathleenJaege13) October 14, 2018
Kirstjen Nielsen lied about the child separation policy and kids are still locked in cages. But both sides.
— Matt Murphy (@MattMurph24) October 8, 2018
Helen has since been reunited with her family, but only after a petition on her behalf garnered thousands of signatures. Her grandmother has surmised that the child, who has reportedly exhibited strange behavior since, believes she was abandoned by her family.
The White House is reportedly looking into a new version of the policy. More than 200 children remain separated from their guardians.