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Two Nursing Children Land in the Hospital After Moms are Detained

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Friday, March 09, 2007

To be completely and totally honest, this is a topic that I'd hoped to avoid here. While you guys know that I'm pretty good at laying it out as far as how I see it (and I don't generally mind if my readers disagree with me), I do try to avoid the super politically charged discussions because I honestly think they do little to further the cause of breastfeeding.

But when readers started emailing me with links to the story, I figured I better suck it up and wade right in.

So, be forewarned...my views on this issue may not be popular with my readers, but no matter what you ultimately decide about this story, the fact remains that it's a story that needs to be told and people on both sides of the issue need to find a way to come to a better solution.

(Wow...that all sounds REALLY foreboding, doesn't it? Don't worry, I'll lighten things up in the next post...)

Anyway, the story comes out of Boston and revolves around a recent raid on a New Bedford, MA factory that resulted in 361 illegal alien workers being detained. Most of the detainees are young Latino women and all of them were flown from Massachusetts to Texas to await extradition hearings.

Now, I'm not going to get too deep into the whole illegal immigrant argument, but here's a brief idea of where I'm coming from. I can see both sides of this issue and while I support tightening our borders to keep people from crossing over illegally, I'm also in favor of radical legislation that makes it easier for people to come here legally. I have no problem with someone coming here from another country, I just want us to make sure that we can get them into the system so that they can pay taxes, have access to benefits, etc. After all, I firmly believe that generous immigration policies are what made our country the great place that it is. That said, I think we have to get a handle on our current problem before we go granting amnesty and opening the borders.

At this point you're going "yeah yeah, this is nice, what the heck does it have to do with breastfeeding?"

Well, the issue that makes this story relevant to The Lactivist is that these women were rounded up and carted off without anyone bothering to check and see if they had children. In fact, two of the children of these workers have landed in the hospital to be treated for dehydration because they were still nursing. (And yes, I know some of you are saying "just give them formula who cares?" but I'd remind you that some breastfed children simply will NOT take a bottle. Mine is one of them...and while eventually I'm sure they'll be able to get some food in them, the fact remains that this is a potentially serious health issue for these children.)

Still other children were simply left with no day-time care-giver (the factory was raided at night...most of these women were working while their children slept and could be left with sleeping friends or family.)

At a press conference about the issue, Governor Deval Patrick shared his frustration with the way things have been handled.

"What we have never understood about this process is why it turned into a race to the airport," Patrick said. "We understand about the importance of processing; we get that. But there are families affected. There are children affected."

Obviously someone dropped the ball here.

Now let me be clear that I have ZERO issue with illegal immigrants being detained and even deported. I feel for them, I really do and I want to see things in this country change so that they can come here legally without waiting years and spending tons of money...but right now, I understand the need to work through the process.

HOWEVER.

There is absolutely NO excuse for separating a child from their mother like that. If the mother is being taken to be deported, then the children need to be sent along as well, especially if we're talking about an infant.

That said, the story is mixed from each side. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the women WERE asked whether or not they had dependant children that required care.


Immigration agents "worked closely with DSS both before the operation commenced and at every stage of the operation, to be sure that no child would be without a sole caregiver," Julie L. Myers , the assistant secretary of homeland security, wrote in a letter to Patrick.

Myers, as well as a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that each of the 361 detainees was asked about child-care needs several times. They pointed out that 60 women who were found to be the sole caregivers to their children have since been released, though they will still face a court hearing.


With that in mind, we also have to consider whether or not a mom in this situation is going to be honest about her situation, or whether translators were provided for those that could not speak English. It's not hard for me to believe that a mom in this situation would worry that if she admitted to having children (and told where they were) that those children might be taken and placed into foster care rather than left with their baby sitters who would (hopefully) continue to care for them.

Even still, some mothers were spared before being flown to Texas. The story continues with...

State social workers who arrived late Wednesday at the interim detention site at the former Fort Devens army base in Ayer found 20 detainees, whom federal agents had not identified, and who they determined should be returned to New Bedford: four pregnant or nursing mothers, nine single mothers, and seven detainees who were minors under age 17. But by the time they were given access to the detainees, the 90 others who were sent to Texas had already left on a plane.

Obviously the other HUGE issue here is that many of these children were born here in the United States, making them citizens. While they clearly have a right to remain here, the law doesn't necessarily grant them the right of having their biological parent as their primary caregiver and it certainly doesn't grant them the right to have breast milk over formula. (I'm not saying that's ok or not ok, I'm just stating how it is.)

Want to hear the absolute greatest irony of all this? The company that these illegal immigrants were working at...was under an $83 million government contract to make backpacks for the U.S. Defense Department.

So please, let's not get TOO far into a debate on immigration or Republicans or Democrats. If it goes that direction, it's all you guys, I'm out of it, because quite frankly, I do this blog for fun and I don't feel like getting into a huge political debate with a bunch of mudslinging.

But, what are your thoughts on this? We have laws in this country that need to be followed, but we also have to balance the needs and rights of children. At what point does a mother lose the right to be able to breastfeed, or does her child's implicit right to health supercede the ANY punishment of the mother?

I'm torn. I'm a tried and true lactivist, but I also realize that while breast is best, there does come a point in time where a mother cannot use her child as a scapegoat to get out of punishment. I'm not sure where that line is because I strongly support children's rights, but I know that line has to be drawn somewhere...

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  1. Anonymous Justice | 3:58 PM |  

    They did the same thing in Santa Fe, NM. No one checked on the kids.

    That being said, I think that the children are more important than the parents. AND if we are going to allow inmates to breastfeed, whats the big deal to have a few obviously hard working women breastfeed?

  2. Blogger alisaterry | 11:13 PM |  

    I absolutely believe that the mothers and infants should not be separated. This is a major health consideration for innocent babies.

  3. Anonymous Tortuguita | 11:37 PM |  

    This is abominable.
    There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of treatment.
    Felons who have committed violent crimes are allowed to breastfeed their children and these women who have not even been convicted of anything yet are savagely separated from their kids? That's unacceptable. There comes a point where basic human respect needs to come into play.

  4. Blogger Lesley | 8:53 AM |  

    I totally understand the conflict between the punishment of the parent (they did break US law after all) and the needs of the child in question. However if you believe that the right to breastmilk is a basic human right (which I believe it is actually in the charter of Human Rights) then those children had their rights seriously violated.
    I can also see how the mothers in question may not have spoken up that they do indeed have young children requiring care out of fear that their babies would also be made to leave the country...they crossed those borders illegally for a reason, kwim? It wasn't just a day trip gone bad...
    I hurt for those children.

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