By Miriam Raftery
Illustration by Duke Windsor*
February 24, 2019 (San Diego) – Following revelations that the Trump administration failed to inform a federal judge that it had begun separating migrant children from their parents back in 2017, a federal judge in San Diego sent strong signals Thursday that he is prepared to expand his June 2018 reunification order to mandate reunions of more families who came to the U.S. seeking freedom from persecution.
Judge Dana Sabraw’s original order required unification only of children who were in government custody at the time, taken from migrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. But on Thursday, Judge Sabraw made clear, “No one but a few in the government knew that these separations had been going on nine or 10 months before, and that hundreds if not thousands were” being separated. He added, “The court didn’t know that and plaintiff didn’t know that, and I don’t think government counsel knew that.”
The comments came in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union seeing reunification of separated migrant families. One option could be for Sabraw to allow ACLU pro bono attorneys and volunteers to help track down all of the children and families who were separated, as they have already done to find most of the 2,800 families in the original suit.
“We are prepared no matter how big the burden is,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said, USA Today reports. But Gelernt also called for officials from Homeland Security and the Health and Services department to be mandated to cooperate, since they hold information on the traumatized families.
But the Department of Justice lawyer, Scott Steward, argued that it would be too burdensome to force the federal government to find all of the separated children and parents. He claimed such a mandate would “blow the case into some other galaxy.”
Meanwhile House Democrats are preparing to issue subpoenas to the Trump administration for documents related to the migrant family separation policy at the border. Politico reports that the House Oversight Committee will vote Tuesday to authorize subpoenas for the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services. The vote is expected to be approved by the committee’s Democratic majority, over objections raised by Republicans.
At least two more Congressional committees, the Homeland Security Committee and House Appropriations Committee, may also be readying investigations into the family separation policy, Politico reports.
Many of the families arrived as refugees claiming asylum, which under international law should provide them with protection and humane treatment pending asylum hearings. But the Trump administration has repeatedly defied international law to protect rights of asylum seekers. The President declared an emergency in an effort to build a border wall that Congress refused to fund, claiming migrant caravans constitute an emergency.
The American Psychological Association has warned of severe psychological trauma to children separated forcibly from their parents and contends that the real crisis is a "mental health crisis at the border."
Carola Suárez-Orozco, PhD, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted research that was cited by the American Psychological Association in a letter sent to President Trump objecting to the family separation policy.
She concludes, “Many immigrants are leaving traumatic situations in their home countries, and their journeys to get here are extremely arduous and inflict more trauma.To separate children from their parents inflicts further trauma. This is cruel to children and hugely disruptive to their sense of safety and well-being.”
* Duke Windsor is a local editorial cartoonist who donated this illustration. Want to see more of his works in East County Magazine? Please donate at www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate and write "Windsor" in the comments field.