The U.S. Is Tracking Migrant Girls' Periods to Stop Them From Getting Abortions

Jennifer Wright
Photo credit: Illustration by Erin Lux

From Harper's BAZAAR

We still don’t know where 1,488 migrant children are. The U.S. government lost them. They admit as much. Even though the court ordered a halt to the policy of family separation, 245 more children have been taken from their parents. So they can’t figure out where children separated from their parents are, but by God, they can keep track of teenage migrant girls' menstrual cycles.

There are 28 pages detailing the periods, pregnancies and reason for the pregnancy (whether by rape or not) of teen girls in custody, some of whom are as young as 12. There may well be reasons for the government to track whether or not a woman is pregnant, and how far along in her pregnancy she is, but there’s no reason to track the cause of her pregnancy. It’s pretty fair to assume that they’re not doing this because they want to ensure women know all the options regarding their pregnancy. It’s almost certainly an attempt to bar them from getting abortions.

We know that, because the tracking was done by the anti-abortion advocate Scott Lloyd, the head of refugee resettlement at the height of the children separation (he has since been removed from that post). Lloyd declared he needed to sign off on all abortion requests (this was previously not the case) and in one instance, attempted to use a migrant girl as a way to test an “abortion reversal” method.

Lloyd has admitted to pressuring these young women to keep their pregnancies. Seemingly, he was quite strenuous in his insistence. In one email, Lloyd relates that a pregnant woman in his care who was seeking-and being kept from having-an abortion mentioned suicide. In response to that, he writes: “The clinician describes her demeanor as 'obnoxious' and that 'the unborn child is in our care so the medical team should continue with standard prenatal care.'" If she continued to want an abortion after “spiritual counseling,” Lloyd continues, she’d have to obtain parental consent. Because deciding to terminate a pregnancy seemingly takes more maturity than motherhood. And, if you think they did not take into account how difficult it might be for teenage migrants to obtain consent from parents they might not be traveling with-oh, don’t worry. They took that into account.

This tracking continued well after the ACLU intervened to stop government interference with immigrant women seeking abortions.

And what happens when these children are born? Well, that’s hard to say. However, we know that many migrant children have gone to Bethany Christian Services, an organization that has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. It is also an agency that allegedly won’t place children with LGBTQ couples. Asylum-seekers are separated from their children, and then told by officials that if they don’t “behave” they will put their children up for adoption.

And once those children have gone to foster homes, they may well be gone for good. The AP reported back in February:

Jonathan White, who leads the Health and Human Services Department’s efforts to reunite migrant children with their parents, said removing children from ‘sponsor’ homes to rejoin their parents ‘would present grave child welfare concerns.’ He said the government should focus on reuniting children currently in its custody, not those who have already been released to sponsor homes.

All of this in spite of that fact that the first goal of foster care is supposed to be “family reunification.”

Now, why would there be a benefit to creating a supply of children to be adopted by Christian, heterosexual families? Well, partly for money. As Kathryn Joyce notes in her book The Child Catchers, “Hefty adoption fees provide lots of incentive to increase the 'supply' of adoptable children, recruiting 'orphans' from intact but vulnerable families.” Anyone who has looked into adoption has probably found that, despite what This is Us leads you to believe, it is not generally the case that you find an abandoned baby peacefully waiting for adoption in the hospital ward. Instead, adoption through agencies is a lengthy process that costs, on average, $39,966, a cost that can make it prohibitively expensive for many families. For all the talk of how adoption is great because there are “so many unwanted babies in the world” there’s actually an enormous market of prospective parents looking for a baby-however, white and Hispanic babies cost about $8,000 more to adopt than black babies.

Beyond that, moving children to a family that government officials prefer is what authoritarian regimes all through history have done. It’s a textbook way to reward your followers, terrify marginalized people into submission, and ensure that a new generation of children are raised to support your regime.

It’s not even in the distant past. From 1977 to 1983 the military junta in Argentina took the children of dissidents, and, after killing or “disappearing” their parents, placed the orphans with childless families friendly to the regime. In some cases, pregnant women being held by the regime were made to give birth specifically for this purpose. The Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo) still gather in Buenos Aries to look for the grandchildren that were taken by the regime after their parents were murdered (thus far 128 out of 500 have been found.)

Moving children from marginalized people to people in power has a basis in American history, too. In 1958, the “Indian Adoption Project” stole Native American children from their homes (even if there was no evidence of any neglect or abuse) and gave them to non-Native families to raise. Roger St. John, one of the children who was taken, claimed, “We were brought up without our culture, which took a terrible toll on our lives. I grew up angry and miserable.”

And now, here we are again, with pregnant women being tracked to ensure they’ll give birth to babies that a 13-year-old mother may not find themselves equipped to raise. We have plenty of reason to suspect where the babies will end up.

If the government can compel marginalized women to have children to give to the government’s preferred people, then you don’t need to make jokes about how America is turning into The Handmaid’s Tale anymore. We’re already there. We just don’t have the bonnets.

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