Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 10, 2018
The haunting family photo of Fernanda Jacqueline Davila, age 2, on the front of The New York Times, ought to be on every tee-shirt the president sees at his famous rallies.
The Times featured it to show the youngest child to come before a federal immigration courtroom on this day.
She was so small that “she had to be lifted into the chair. Even the judge in her black robes breathed a soft “aww” as her latest case perched on the brown leather. Her feet stuck out from the seat in small gray sneakers, her legs too short to dangle. Her fists were stuffed under her knees. As soon as the caseworker who had sat her there turned to go, she let out a whimper that rose to a thin howl, her crumpled face a bursting dam,” reported The Times.
As such, she is the face of what the Trump administration intentionally has wrought — one of hundreds of children taken from a family member at the border and housed — or hailed — with other migrant children.
That the president prances at his public events railing insults at anyone who opposes him, taking umbrage at the “mob” of truly hurt women who find his partisan championship of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s “innocence” and total dismissal of what happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as close to disgusting. Yet the reality, is that the apex of his policies is written on the face of a two-year-old.
As the story in The Times unraveled, littleFernanda, was taken from her grandmother at the border in late July; now she was looked after a caseworker, a big-boned man from Cayuga Centers, the New York shelter that had been contracted to raise her.
That day, Judge Randa Zagzoug had nearly 30 children to hear from, ages 2 through 17 as the government works lazily through a list that reached up to 13,000 children detained by border police and detained in shelters apart from their families.
The detainment program has resulted “in a new wave of children in the immigration courts across America. Though the exact figures are not known, lawyers who work with immigrants said the large number of migrant children now being held in detention has given rise to a highly unusual situation: more and more young children coming to court.”
Young immigrants “are stranded at the junction of several forces: the Trump administration’s determination to discourage immigrants from trying to cross the border; the continuing flow of children journeying by themselves from Central America; the lingering effects of last summer’s family-separation crisis at the border; and a new government policy that has made it much more difficult for relatives to claim children from federal custody. ‘We rarely had children under the age of 6 until the last year or so,’ said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. ‘We started seeing them as a regular presence in our docket.’”
That day, many of the young were allowed to go home at night to a foster family, though they returned to the shelter by day. And they could count on lawyers from Catholic Charities, which receives funding from a nonprofit group to represent immigrant children in New York City shelters.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Zagzoug tried to explain the proceedings to each child who sat before her and, and ended each hearing with words of encouragement: “Good luck.” “Buena suerte,” repeated the translator, child after child.
Once released, the children must face a different and more difficult courtroom test: In another immigration courthouse, somewhere in America, they will have to make a case that they meet the standard for asylum, or they will be deported. In some cases, they will have to testify about the trauma they experienced or the danger from which they fled.
In Fernanda’s case, her family in Honduras wanted her returned. As The Times recounted, she was born to a teenage mother four months after her father died in a car accident, Fernanda had been raised by her paternal grandparents in a working-class suburb of Tegucigalpa, the capital. Hector Enrique Lazo and Amada Vallecillos doted on their granddaughter. She was the only piece of their son they had left. But in July — unexpectedly, Fernanda’s maternal grandmother, Nubia Archaga, took Fernanda with her overland to the American border, where she was taken from the holding facility where they had been staying.
The maternal grandmother had decided to bring her to the border in hopes of winning admission for a better life. The other grandparents called a toll-free number publicized in Honduras to reach American authorities, which ignited a search for Fernanda.
Today’s judge was going to cut through it all and allow Fernanda returned to her parental grandparents back in Honduras, and attempted to explain the outcome to the silent toddler. “She seems to be satisfied,” Judge Zagzoug noted for the record.
“It was over. Judge, clerk and interpreter waved to Fernanda. The caseworker lifted her off her seat and led her, big hand over little, back for more waiting.”
You know for every case settled, there are dozens more that are waiting, unsettled, with children taken from their families to be housed in shelters.
What is the gain here? How are we better off as a nation? What values are we espousing here? What does this two-year-old have to do with immigrant criminal gangs or illicit drug trafficking or the need for a border Wall?
What possible connection is there between the reality of a Fernanda and the ravings of a sloganeering, autocratic, president who insists on building the language and acts of hate?
Maybe we all should be wearing Fernanda’s picture.