After photos emerged of immigrant children being housed in detainee centers along the border, the question began circulating social media, activist spaces and the halls of Congress: Where are the girls?
Many of the photos circling the Internet and displayed on cable networks have been of boys. This left Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) with more questions than answers. So she took to social media to bring attention to her need for answers.
She talked to The Fix about her quest to head to a facility housing teenage girls. She will visit one Saturday in her home state of south Florida.
Wilson's answers have been edited for length and clarity.
The Fix: When did you first get involved in this issue?
Wilson: When I heard about what they have going on at the border with separating children from their mothers and families, I flew to Brownsville, Tex. I went specifically looking for the girls to find out where they have them housed, if there were people there with them insuring that the specific needs of young girls were being met.
They took me into a facility, and the first thing I saw were lots of boys. I saw little girls, like, up to 10 years old, but I wanted to see the adolescent girls who were in the process of going through puberty.
So what will you do next? Are you visiting any other facilities?
Wilson: After coming back to Miami, I found out that there are girls in Miami, so I will be going to visit them on Saturday. So I plan to take them some balloons to lift their spirits and plan to talk with them and give them my phone number and if they have any concerns and if they want to reach out to Congress to call my office. They told me and showed me in Brownsville they have phones on the wall. If the children feel threatened in any way, that they have the ability to call someone to let them know that their rights are being abridged.
Why is this issue resonating with you personally?
Wilson: I became especially concerned about the girls because I’m on this “Bring Back Our Girls” project related to the girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. And I'm just a school principal who had a school that had boys and girls in it, and there's a difference with girls. And they change and go through so many fluctuations so I wanted to make sure that someone in these facilities are aware of what these girls may need.
Do you have any concerns about these facilities where the children are being housed?
Wilson: I just don't trust institutions. That's just been my experience, and they are private institutions and they say they have guidelines. But I know when you go on a visit, there's a way they can scrub a place. And they set it up to make it look like everyone is just perfect. That the children are well taken care of, delicious food for the children, the children are enjoying it, and you leave and that's not necessarily the real picture.
What are your thoughts on the White House's response to this so far?
Wilson: The White House is not even intimately involved in this whole process. What they do is hire a company, and then it's up to the company to provide these services, and I don’t trust private companies that are not monitored by the federal government. They say that they have inspectors that come in and who look around, but I don't believe them.
Are you optimistic about things going forward given recent changes to the policy?
Wilson: I am deeply concerned. I want to find out the different facilities where girls are. I need to know, in what other cities do they have adolescent girls. I might have to take a trip to those facilities also. It's troubling to me personally.
This is truly a very serious issue. This is heartbreaking, and it's devastating. And I'm upset, and I am totally angry that this is happening right there in America under our noses. This is not good for us as a people.
Why should Americans be concerned about the status of these immigrant children?
Wilson: We have taken these children from their parents. And they have become wards of the state. They are ours now. I feel like these are my children. I have to make sure they are safe and well-cared-for. That they are clean, well-fed, that they are put on an educational track. I want all that for them, so that is my concern.
What is next on your agenda after your visit?
Wilson: The next move is make sure the children are reunited with their parents as soon as humanly possible. There's a log jam that we've got to break down. They have been separated. I don't think they're going to take them anymore, but how do we get them reconnected with their parents when their parents are in detention and they are in detention somewhere else?