Mothers, Children, and Dollar Signs

A widely acknowledged fact is the exploitation of black women’s reproductive labor during slavery.  Enslaved black women were often raped in part to satisfy the sexual desires of slave owners, but it was also done, in large part, to create additional laborers for the support of the slave economy.


Credit: National Humanities Center

 The children of enslaved black women were often separated from their mothers and sold off to work on plantations.  The ages at which children were sold off to work on other plantations often varied from plantation to plantation.  Needless to say, many mothers never saw their children again.  All for profit and material gain.

Fast forward to the 20th Century and the separation of black mothers and children continued to be a source of revenue generation.  With a renewed focus on welfare reform and a determination to significantly reduce what many perceived to be entitlements, federal legislation was enacted to terminate parental rights and expeditiously place children, who were determined to be in an unsafe environment, in foster care.  To be clear, such action was not a result of pure altruism on behalf of state and government entities.  Instead, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 facilitated federal incentives to state agencies for the expedient removal, parental termination, and placement of children in foster care.  Unfortunately, the application of the legislation has not been exactly colorblind.  It has been documented and revealed that black children, in comparison to white children, are disproportionately removed from their homes.  This remains true even when white children experience the same issues as black children within their homes.  Simply put, efforts are made to keep white families united while black families are dissected – and dollars are pocketed.


Credit: LA Times

Now, in the 21st Century, the disruption of mothers and children of color once again seems to be a potentially emerging source of revenue.  Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that it is seeking to end the practice of “catch and release” which allows undocumented immigrants entering the United States to go free until a scheduled court appearance.  With the end of “catch and release,” undocumented persons who are captured after crossing the border would be detained until adjudication.  In the case of undocumented persons with children, the Trump administration is considering separating mothers and children at the border.  In such instances, the mother will be kept in a detention center while the children are placed in the “least restrictive setting” at the cost of the federal government.  Under the Obama administration, mothers and children were kept together for a maximum of 21 days.

It should be noted that, since the inception of the Trump administration, private prison stocks have soared at the prospect of increased populations at immigration detention centers. Currently, over half of undocumented persons are held at private facilities.  This percentage will likely exponentially increase.  If the Department of Homeland Security moves forward with the separation of mothers and children at the border, profits will be made by the private facilities holding the mothers as well as the “least restrictive settings” where undocumented children are expected to be placed.  In short, history will repeat itself again. Separating mothers and children of color will prove profitable once more.