After the Trump administration announced a zero-tolerance policy for undocumented immigration on April 6th 2018, ICE detention centers began separating immigrant children from their parents. In some cases, children would be transported to centers in different states than where their parents were being held. President Trump falsely claimed the policy of family separation was a Democratic policy. Considering the Democrats are a minority in Congress it is a falsity. From April 19th to May 31st approximately 2,000 children were separated from their parents. The majority of Americans were opposed to this policy ranging from disapproval to outrage. A federal judge ruled that Trump must reunite the families, so is that the reality?
U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw issued a preliminary injunction on the policy calling it, “a chaotic circumstance of the Government’s own making.” The injunction required that “nearly all children younger than 5 be returned to their parents within 14 days and that older children be returned within 30 days” (Politico). There is no system put in place to keep track of the children in order to reunite them with their families. Judge Sabraw stated, “Money, important documents, and automobiles, to name a few, are routinely catalogued, stored, tracked and produced upon a detainee’s release, at all levels…Yet, the government has no system in place to keep track of, provide effective communication with, and promptly produce alien children. The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property. Certainly, that cannot satisfy the requirements of due process.” The policy was found to be unconstitutional because of the due process violation, and also condemned as a human rights violation by legal scholars, human rights organizations, and other countries.
Heartbreaking footage of some of the children being reunited with their parents shows some of the long-lasting psychological damage the administration has caused. As if separating children from their parents and forcing them to appear before judges was not horrible enough, there have been several reports of children being physically and sexually assaulted. Just one of the accusation involves, “A 6-year-old migrant girl, separated from her family, [who] was sexually abused by another child while in government custody at a facility in Arizona” (Vox). Southwest Key, the private company that runs the detention center that the girl was allegedly assaulted at, denied the report. The center then gave the young girl a “safety plan” that includes stipulations such as “stay away from the youth involved” and education in “good vs. bad touch.” The girl initialed the form, but the “safety plan” did not stop her from being touched and groped again.
Right before the court-ordered reunification deadline, “more than 1,400 children were reunited with their families by a court-order July 26 deadline. But more than 700 children remain in government custody, including hundreds whose parents have already been deported back to their home countries” (Vox). As of September 7th, 2018, 416 children remain in custody. The ACLU produced a status report as part of an ongoing lawsuit that shows the government’s sluggish progress in reuniting all of the children, which is already over a month overdue.
People are criticizing the lack of urgency in returning the children to their parents because of the already done and possibly irreversible damage. Parents tearfully recount their first time seeing their child again, and note that the children don’t recognize their parents and deal with mental health issues such as anxiety and insomnia. Depending on the child, some cling to their parents and experience depression while other develop anger issues and paranoia.
Many psychologists are studying the affects of separation on children. According to Jodi Berger Cardoso, assistant professor at the University of Houston, “The outrage that people have been facing the past few days, I wish people would keep in their minds that this is continuing to happen in our country every day. What we’ve all been focused on at the border, it’s just a microcosm of the trauma that is happening and will continuing to happen.” Psychologists say that, “Children intercepted at the border are often especially vulnerable to developing PTSD and other disorders because their families are fleeing violence and catastrophe” (Washington Post).
The Trump administration announced plans to detain more children indefinitely, in addition to those still being held. The administration’s supposed reason for delaying reunification are cases that involve criminal “red flags.” However, the ACLU is asking the government to explain some suspicious discrepancies such as the 50 parents who have not been reunited with their children, compared to only 35 listed children still being held due to “red flags.” The children still in ICE custody will either remain detained indefinitely, released to family members or sponsors, or enter the foster care system.
The immigration crisis has mostly filtered out of the news cycle, but for about 400 young children, the crisis is still their present reality.