By Miriam Raftery
Photo via Twitter
June 4, 2018 (San Diego) – Outrage is growing over revelations that the Trump administration has dramatically expanded the number of children being forcibly separated from their parents at the international border. On Friday, dozens o f protests were held in cities across the nation, NPR reports. The hashtag #familiesbelongtogether is trending on Twitter, showing thousands gathered at protests from Trump Towers to the nation’s capital.
Until now, only unaccompanied minors who came to the border without parents were put into foster homes pending hearings. But now, the Trump administration has taken the historically unprecedented move of prosecuting every undocumented immigrant and taking children away from their parents – even nursing infants ripped from their mothers’ arms.
The Washington Post reports that the U.S. government has 10,773 migrant children currently in custody and that this number has surged 21 percent in just the past month due to the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy. Last year, the Trump administration took custody of 40,000 migrant children, a staggering number compared to in the past.
From October to April, the New York Times reports that 700 children including 100 under age four have been taken from parents at the border. Shelters are filling up and some may soon be housed at military bases pending placement with foster parents—and with prosecutions of even parents fleeing violence in their homeland, separations could last for years, causing severe psychological trauma to children, experts warn.
The increase in child separations comes even in the wake of revelations that Homeland Security cannot find 1,475 immigrant children previously taken into custody. While some propaganda sites and fake news posts on social media have sought to downplay the seriousness of the situation, here are the facts.
The number is based on the Office of Refugee Resettlement calling sponsor homes where children had been placed, in most cases with relatives. Of 7,635 calls placed, 86% confirmed children were still with sponsors. Another 28 said children had run away, five had been removed from the U.S. and 52 had relocated to live with a non-sponsor. But ORR could not learn the whereabouts of 1,475 children. It is unknown if they may be in hiding, if families simply didn’t answer the phones, or if some children may have wound up in the hands of human traffickers. But bottom line, with no apparent concern or follow-up after that report, the government still doesn’t know if those 1,475 children are safe, or where they are—facts that should alarm any parent or person concerned about the wellbeing of children.
Also troubling, a new report by the ACLU has found that even during the Obama administration, unaccompanied minors were reportedly abused in U.S. custody. Complaints included kicking children in the ribs and head, forcing a teen girl to spread her legs for an invasive body search, threatening minors with sexual abuse, and denying medical care to a pregnant teen who had a stillborn baby, Newsweek reports. Homeland Security spokesperson Katie Waldmen has claimed the report, based on 30,000 pages of documents obtained through public records requests, are “absurd” and “without merit.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has announced she will introduce legislation to prevent the intentional separation of immigrant children from parents at the border.
“It is hard to conceive of a policy more horrific than intentionally separating children from their parents as a form of punishment…This is not what the United States of America should be,” she said in a press statement. “Congress has a moral obligation to take a stand here.”
She referenced a Trump statement making clear that separation of the children is intended as a deterrent to dissuade families from coming to the U.S. The administration has shown a callous disregard for the traumatic impacts of family separation on the children, punishing both children and parents in essence.
Trump has called immigrants “animals” and while he later tried to claim he was referring only to violent gang members, his initial statement made no such distinction. Trump stated during a Sanctuary Cities conference at the White House, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in—and we’re stopping a lot of them—but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”
Coming from a president who previously called Mexicans “rapists and murderers” and who has drawn criticism for allowing thousands of Puerto Ricans to perish as supplies languished after a hurricane that a year later has left much of the U.S. territory still without power have led critics to call the policies racist.
Senator Kamala Harris, California’s other Democratic Senator, has also denounced the policies. She participated in a protest with women legislators and mothers’ groups in Washington D.C. The groups held a press conference and walked to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, where a hearing on children at the border was underway.
When they rose to leave, the women left teddy bears on their empty seats, symbolizing the needs of children. The groups asked the administration to stop tearing children away from their parents.
The Libertarian Party, a right-leaning party on many issues, has also denounced the policies, posting on Twitter, “The Donald Trump administration has decided to unmercifully enforce the letter of immigration law, no matter the consequences to individual lives and families. Children are being forcibly separated from their parents at the border.”
“The worst terror a child can experience is being taken from their parents. Would blonde, blue-eyed children ever be treated so brutally at our border? Would 4,600 Puerto Ricans have been left to die if they were white? No. Trumpism is racism. What in God’s name have we become?” actor Jim Carrey posted on Twitter.
Lee Gelent, immigration attorney with the ACLU, which is suing the administration in a class action lawsuit seeking to end the family separations, blasted Trump for illogically trying to blame Democrats for the separations. Trump has faulted Democrats for not approved funding for his border wall (even many Republicans balked at the high price tag). But the fact is, only the Trump administration has opted to prosecute 100% of parents and only the Trump administration has opted to separate children from parents at the border---before Trump, children put into custody were only those who arrive here without a parent. Moreover, Trump is also punishing families who come here seeking asylum, even if they did not actually cross the border, but rather went through proper legal channels approved under international law.
In other countries, families are not separated; Canada for example releases asylum seekers pending hearings after only a brief detention for a background check; if anyone is deemed a flight risk they are released wearing an ankle bracelet, but children remain with parents even during brief detentions in family camp-style centers, not prisons.
“Little kids are begging and screaming not to be taken away from parents, and they’re hauled off,” the ACLU immigration attorney, Gelent, says. “It’s as bad as anything I’ve see in 25-plus years of doing this work.”
The administration’s actions violate both domestic and international law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which emphasizes that children must have special protections regardless of race, national or ethnic origins. Separation of children at the border and in the U.S. is not based on justifiable child protection grounds, therefore contravening international and domestic laws on child welfare, human rights and refugees.
“What the president is doing is engaging in classic propaganda techniques, that have preceded genocides in the past. This is no joke and Americans should be alarmed,” writes Nadin Brzezinski, a former Red Cross emergency responder in Mexico and writer at Medium.com. She notes that in the Holocaust, “children were deported from the ghettos in 1942” and “those children were sent straight to the gas chambers.”
While no one has suggested that the Trump administration is engaged in a Holocaust, Brzezinski argues, “These policies seek to destroy cultures,” likening the practice to the taking of children from Native American families that was a widespread U.S. government practice in the early 1900s.
In the case of immigrants, the policies are meant to deter families from seeking asylum, which is also a violation of international law, Brezezinski concludes, adding, “Mostly, they seek to demean and dehumanize their victims.”