When accounts of abuse emerged in June from a detention center for migrant minors in Virginia – children as young as 14 stripped naked, shackled, strapped to chairs, their heads encased in bags, left for days or longer in solitary confinement, and in some cases beaten and bruised – it sounded like a scene from the Soviet gulag. This institution, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, near Staunton, couldn’t possibly be in America. And if it was, it had to be an extreme outlier – a place that, while overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services, simply could not typify the federal government’s handling of children, undocumented or not, who make their way into this country.

But abuses alleged at that jail in Virginia turn out to be no worse than those inflicted, on even younger children, at another facility under ORR’s purview in Texas. Last Monday, a federal judge, incensed that underage migrants at the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center, south of Houston, had been routinely administered psychotropic drugs without parental consent, denied water as a means of punishment and forbidden from making private phone calls, ordered undocumented minors there transferred elsewhere.

Not the Soviet gulag. These things are taking place in America.

Not just coincidentally, it is President Trump’s America. True, documented abuses at both facilities pre-date Trump’s administration; at Shiloh, in particular, there have been harrowing reports of mistreatment for years. Yet the president, who has referred to illegal immigrants as “animals” and “rapists” who “infest” the United States, is a serial, casual dehumanizer of immigrants, particularly Hispanic ones. The signals he sends, amplified by Twitter, are heard everywhere. If unauthorized immigrants are vermin, as the president implies, then it’s legitimate to treat them as such – to tie them up, lock them away solo, dehydrate and drug them.

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