On June 18, 2018 Propublica uploaded audio that was recorded inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility. Throughout the nearly eight-minute clip, the cries and wails of children calling for their parents and family members can be clearly heard, providing listeners with a look into the traumatic experience thousands of children face when they are separated from their families at the border. With some parents being deported without their children, and children being deported without the parents, the reunification process seems hopeless. The issue lies in the fact that they never needed to be separated in the first place.
In April 2017, the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Vowing to act upon his anti-immigration rhetoric, the policy called for the prosecution of all individuals who attempt to illegally enter the United States, including asylum seekers. When parents and children entered the country together, parents were sent to the Department of Justice for prosecution, while children and other minors were sent to detention centers or shelters. In June 2018, the Department of Homeland Security reported that more than 2,000 children were separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9.
Although Trump has said that U.S law or court rules mandated the separation of families, such claims are false. The implementation of this policy was by choice, as no law requires family separation. Before Trump came into office, families were detained together, sent back immediately or paroled into the country, according to The Washington Post. Now, families are separated as an inevitable result of arresting parents since children can not be in jail with them. Therefore, it comes down to a policy that places irresponsible prosecution over human life.
We at The New Paltz Oracle urge the Trump administration to efficiently reunite families and to construct an immigration reform policy that is in line with human rights. The administration should aim to prosecute individuals who have been convicted for serious crimes such as violence and drug and human trafficking, instead of detaining asylum seekers who are fleeing the violence of war or gang activity in their country. To prosecute parents and send their children to facilities with intolerable living conditions, displays one of the harshest immigration policies in U.S. history, begging the public to question the moral and ethical standards of the current administration.
A look into one facility in McAllen, Texas revealed the awful conditions in which hundreds of minors lived in. Reports displayed images of children in cages created by metal fencing and sleeping under foil blankets, not knowing when they will see their family members again.
Vox has reported that children are stripped away from their youth. Older minors took care of infants, children were scolded for playing in their cage and reports from children state that cold, unnourishable food was provided to them. Further investigation revealed that shelter staff were prohibited from hugging or touching the children, and there were even allegations that children weren’t allowed to hug one another. Antar Davidson, a staff member, quit due to this inhumane and traumatizing policy.
These images and reports caught the attention of many news outlets and instantly went viral, prompting a response from the Trump administration. In June, President Trump signed an executive order designed to keep migrant families together at the U.S.-Mexico border, evidently displaying that the policy was something reversible and not caused by some untouchable law away from his power. The damage, however, has already been done, as many of the children that lived in detention facilities live with trauma and other mental health ramifications.
According to Vox, “forcible separation places these children at elevated risk for mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and conduct problems. Epidemiological data suggests that as many as 30 percent of mental health disorders are related to childhood adversity, highlighting the widespread impact of early trauma on public health.” The children who are separated from their family already have a long line of stressful experiences, since they are fleeing danger from their country and are entering unknown territory with no concept of what could possible happen next.
Psychologists have well-documented how essential parents are to a child’s survival, because of the inate human need for attachment, caregiving and warmth.
“When a child is ripped away from a parent, their body goes into fight-or-flight mode,” according to Vox. “Stress hormones surge, and the body prepares for danger.”
This survival tactic creates severe trauma and prolonged stress that stays with the children well into adulthood. Children could act out, not pay attention in class or become antisocial. In the long run, they could fall into substance abuse or become violent. Thus, the ramifications of this policy far exceed any false sense of “control” that administration might think they have on border control.
Furthermore, although the administration asserted that they will reunite families separated over a month and half ago, “more than 400 children remain separated from their parents. Three hundred parents have already been deported without their children, and dozens of others, who are currently in federal custody, have been barred from seeing their children because of what the Administration is calling ‘red flags,’” according to The New Yorker last week.
Red flags could range from drunk driving to assault charges. The Trump administration’s failure to reunite families shows not only a lack of empathy but a refusal to even acknowledge their own due dates.
If the Trump administration wishes to impose a stricter immigration policy, it should not be at the expense of children’s mental and physical well-being. The obsession with prosecuting asylum seekers instead of focusing on evidence-based migration management is not only ignorant, but unnecessarily apprehensive and unlawfully aggressive. Priority needs to lie in prosecuting people with violent or malicious intent, not families and separating children; moreover, the practices the Trump administration are pursuing are not properly regulated, and only result in trauma and neglect.
We at The New Paltz Oracle, concur with the statement given by the Human Rights First organization, who call for resources toward evidence-based migration management practices, such as community-based alternative-to-detention programs that have been proven to ensure appearance for immigration hearings and appointments, instead of focusing on criminal prosecutions for every individual, especially those seeking asylum.