Of Cages and Kids

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Will thousands of immigrant children incarcerated along the southern border suffer long-term damage from detention and family separation? Eric Holt-Giménez has a clear idea of the answer.

I was lucky. My mother wrote to me daily. No one else in C section at San Francisco’s juvenile detention center could count on such devotion, or on the constant assurance they’d be released soon.

I don’t remember how long I was there—to an eight year old a month is an eternity. I have vivid memories of trying not to cry when child services pulled me away and of the leaden sound of the steel door locking behind me when I arrived. I remember the other children: Black, Latino, and Native American, Pacific Islanders, and poor, white kids. There were little ones as young as four, and two 17 year-olds soon to be released on their own. Crammed in our cells, we tried to get along, but boys wailed under confinement, and turned their pain on each other. Some were stoic. Others seemed mute, shell-shocked.

As children, none of us “deserved” to be incarcerated, but this didn’t save us from the shame of detention. They called us “wards of the court,” but we were really its victims. We all have scars from the abuse of early confinement. For some kids, the blows never stopped and the wounds never healed. I’m certain many never left the criminal justice system.

When I see internment camps filled with immigrant children —many seeking asylum— I remember the anguish of confinement and am outraged by the damage being done to children in our name. My incarceration doesn’t compare to that of nearly 11,000 immigrant children. I’m a citizen. I speak English.


My mother moved heaven and earth to free me. Across the United States, thousands of women are protesting against the mass incarceration of children. It took me a long time to understand what they know: Abusing a child’s human rights damages their spirit. Government policy that practices child detention in the name of security, damages all of us.

Stop this incarceration and shut down the detention camps. Let the children go.

With a Perspective, I’m Eric Holt-Giménez.

Eric Holt-Giménez. is executive director of a Bay Area non-profit working dedicated to ending the injustices that cause hunger.