The Nazis did this. Now it’s us. The great and glorious United States of America. Separating families and, in violation of court orders, failing to properly keep track of them or take adequate steps to reunite them. When will it end? What effects will it have on the lives of those directly affected? How will they think of the United States when they grow up and are fully aware as adults of what was done to them?
I wrote about the issue of climate change and its relation to crimes against humanity in March 2017. See https://bit.ly/32a122e
The troublesome history of humanity’s efforts to come to grips with the worst conduct of which we are thus far capable is set out reasonably well and at length in Wikipedia at https://bit.ly/2T2wGdD The summary there states that crimes against humanity can occur in wartime or peacetime:
They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. War crimes, murder, massacres, dehumanization, genocide, ethnic cleansing, deportations, unethical human experimentation, extrajudicial punishments, including summary executions, use of weapons of mass destruction, state terrorism or state sponsoring of terrorism, death squads, kidnappings and forced disappearances, use of child soldiers, unjust imprisonment, enslavement, torture, rape, political repression, racial discrimination, religious persecution and other human rights abuses may reach the threshold of crimes against humanity if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. [Emphasis added]
I will not engage in legalistic analysis of all those terms. You can decide for yourself whether a reasonable person could think that separating children from parents at the U.S. border because the parents were illegally entering the United States fairly falls within the bolded terms above.
The inescapable facts are that punishments, in the form of loss of freedom, among others, are being meted out without meaningful judicial process in the name of the United States against children and that those children are being punished for the conduct of their parents. The parents are, of course, also being punished and because they are not U.S. citizens, their entitlement to many forms of legal protection is, in practice, limited or non-existent.
Your patriotic conservative Republican will argue that this situation is the fault of the parents who decided to bring their children into the United States knowing that doing so was illegal and might be met with severe consequences. Thus, their argument goes, the sins of the parents are rightfully visited upon the children; it’s their fault, not ours so who the hell cares what happens to them? If the parents obeyed the law, none of this would have happened. The point of the punitive action against the children is to deter future parents from seeking to enter the United States illegally (or any other way as it later turned out under increasingly stringent anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration). End of story.
Except it’s not the end of the story. It’s the beginning. If the government is going to forcibly separate children from their parents because the parents broke the immigration laws, a morally just society would, while engaging in self-praise for upholding the law, be certain that sufficient resources were committed to keep track of the separated children and to assure that, as soon as humanly possible, they were reunited with their parents. This, however, has not happened.
The Trump administration knows this and is indifferent to the problem it has created. Or, if you insist, indifferent to the problem that the illegal immigrant parents have created. In the end, it doesn’t matter who “created” the situation. The U.S. government took actions that separated the children, locked many of them in cages, failed to provide adequately for their physical and mental well-being, and then failed, and continues to fail, to re-connect many of the children with their parents. Trump, his chief immigration advisor Stephen Miller and all the rest of Trump’s “nothing but the best people” don’t give a damn about the harm they have caused.
This, I suggest, is the functional equivalent of a crime against humanity for which the individuals responsible for the execution of the policy should be held accountable. They should be arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for what they have done.
Let’s look closer. First, you should be aware that one of the earliest (July 2017) of the separated children has yet to be reunited with her mother some two and a half years later. This Washington Post article tells the story. https://wapo.st/2SHHiQh
The child is now nine years old and hasn’t seen her mother since the mother was deported to Guatemala. As reported,
The children have now spent enough time in the United States to narrate their stories of separation in fluent English. Their parents are back in Central America, watching sons and daughters grow up over grainy video calls….
Some days, Adelaida gets angry. When other kids in class talk about their mothers. When her aunt kisses her cousin Angel good night, but not her. María can see her daughter’s eyes getting big and glassy, her face turning red.
“I need you by my side,” Adelaida exclaims.
“I’m trying,” María responds. She hangs up and cries.
The government of the United States, led by Donald J. Trump, did this. No one else.
The administration put out false information in 2018 about the number of separated children, claiming almost 3,000 when the real number was over 4,500, many of whom remain separated to this day.
Lawyers traversed Central America with only scraps of information: misspelled names and phone numbers no longer in use. Some parents have disappeared. Others have gone into hiding to avoid the threats they once tried to escape. The lawyers found Maria [Adelaida’s mother] in December.
Other separated parents — the ones initially recognized by the administration — have joined a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU. Some asked to be reunited with their children in the United States. A federal judge ruled in favor of 11 of them. Nine of them landed in Los Angeles last month. Twenty-nine others, aided by American lawyers, crossed the border last year. But María wasn’t a part of the ACLU lawsuit, or any other petition, because her case hadn’t been recorded.
“This is a group who the government kept hidden from us, the court, Congress and the public,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney. “And these children were even younger than the original group, hundreds just babies and toddlers.” ….
Once María was in custody, she said, an immigration agent approached. “He said, ‘I’m taking your daughter with me,’ and he took her arm. I started screaming. He wouldn’t say where she was going or for how long.” Adelaida started wailing. “I didn’t want to leave my mom,” she said. “When I was almost going to say goodbye, they took me, so I couldn’t.”
Patricia Reynoso, Adelaida’s aunt, tried to reason with the agent. She wasn’t sure why María was separated from Adelaida, but she was allowed to stay with her daughter.
“The agent looked at me and said, ‘I’m a father. I don’t want to be doing this, but it’s my job,’ ” Patricia said. [emphasis mine]
Just following orders. Where have we heard that before?
You can read the rest of the story in the Washington Post article cited above, if you have the stomach for it. Here is an example:
Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which facilitated the family separation policy, gave Patricia a pamphlet in Spanish on how to support Adelaida. It was called “How to Help My Child.”
“Spend time together as a family,” it suggested. “Make time for your family to eat together and play and take trips.”
The Trump-led government at work.
The American Bar Association reports that the Trump administration zero tolerance separation policy began in April 2018, subjecting illegal entrants to criminal prosecution. https://bit.ly/39MaFqq That time frame cannot be reconciled with what is reported in the above story from the Washington Post and elsewhere. See the Wikipedia report cited below in which it is reported that the child separation policy actually began a year before then-Attorney General Sessions announced it. And while Trump, by Executive Order, allegedly ended the separation policy, “there is no procedure currently in place to reunite the thousands of families already separated.” It appears that no procedure to reunite the families was ever in place or perhaps even seriously considered by the administration. In 2018 statements, the ABA described the Trump administration policy as “inhumane and untenable” and “unnecessarily cruel action [that] violates basic standards of human decency.” [emphasis mine]
In June 2018, the then-Republican-controlled House of Representatives rejected passage of legislation that would have ended the separation-of families-policy. A lawsuit against the policy was filed by the ACLU, resulting in a nationwide injunction temporarily stopping the separation of children from their parents at the border and ordered that all families already separated be reunited within 30 days, an order the Trump administration appears to have ignored. Other suits have been lodged by a coalition of 17 states, the American Immigration Council, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. There may be others pending and no doubt others will be filed.
You may view photos of the children detailed in cages resembling a dog kennel at https://bit.ly/39Z7Fa6
The Trump administration’s failure to speak truthfully about its policy, combined with its utter indifference to the suffering of the separated families, speaks volumes about this administration’s attachment to American values. The daily, sometimes hourly, lying about its conduct of the nation’s business has spilled over into immigration policy. This is beyond incompetence – it is evidently deliberate:
Since June 2018, despite the official end of the separation policy, hundreds of additional children have been separated from their parents. In March 2019, the government reported that since that time, 245 children had been removed from their families, in some cases without clear documentation undertaken to track them in order to reunite them with their parents. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform reported in July 2019 that over 700 children have been separated from their parents after the policy’s official end. In July, it was reported that as many as five children per day were being separated, and by October, the total had reached 1,090.
In January 2019, the administration acknowledged that thousands more children may have been separated from their families than the previously reported figure of 2,737, with officials uncertain of the exact number. Investigation showed that the child separation policy had actually begun in the summer of 2017, prior to the zero tolerance policy announced in April 2018.
Federal officials said there were no plans to attempt to reunite these children because “it would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children.” In May 2019, the administration acknowledged that at least an additional 1,712 migrant children may have been separated from their parents even before the “zero tolerance” policy was implemented.
In June 2019, a group of attorneys … visited a Border Patrol center in Clint, Texas. The children told the lawyers that meals consisted of instant oatmeal, a cookie and sweetened drink for breakfast, instant noodles for lunch, and a heated frozen burrito and a cookie for dinner. They said they had not had a clean change of clothing or a bath for weeks. There were no adult caretakers, ten- and fourteen-year-old girls were taking care of the younger ones. A 14-year-old girl from Guatemala who had been holding two little girls in her lap told them: “I need comfort, too. I am bigger than they are, but I am a child, too.” [extensive footnotes omitted]
The Trump administration tried to deflect responsibility for its treatment of children at the border by claiming it was just following the policy adopted by the Obama administration. That claim is a lie. The Obama policy did not mass-separate children from parents. This Trump claim flies in the face of Trump’s on-going obsession with undoing everything Obama did. It is unimaginable Trump would have knowingly adopted an Obama policy – this claim is just another attempt to deflect attention from the venality and criminality of the Trump leadership.
Administration officials repeatedly lied in interviews, in testimony to Congress and in court filings about the child separation policy and practice. The Trump policy reflects a calculated indifference to the suffering created by the child separation policy throughout the entire period of its implementation:
Speaking on NPR in May 2018, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly described the policy as “a tough deterrent [and] a much faster turnaround on asylum seekers”. When questioned if it might be considered “cruel and heartless” to remove children from their mothers, Kelly replied, “I wouldn’t put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.”
In June 2018, Attorney General Sessions said, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get this message out. You’re not given immunity.” White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said: “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.” [footnotes omitted]
“Foster care or whatever.” Kelly’s words, but Donald Trump is ultimately responsible for this policy.
Children’s mental health has had a strong correlation with forced parent–child separation and parental loss which has led to potential traumatic events (PTEs). Research has found that “forced parent–child separation and parental loss are PTEs with adverse effects on child mental health and academic functioning” …. “emerging research has indicated that parental detention and deportation increase risk for mental health problems such as severe psychological distress, anxiety, and depression”. Due to these mental stressors, many of these children have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from traumatic parent separations….
A 2018 study looked at the impact of parent-child separation and child detention on the mental health and development of children. The author interviewed parents and children who had experienced separation and reported that the separation of the children from their parents together with a background of chronic and acute adversity has created a “perfect storm for attachment damage, toxic stress and trauma”. The author noted that a child under prolonged stress “may develop complex patterns of protective responses that can include hyperarousal—hypervigilance, agitation, flashbacks and emotional reactivity, or hypoarousal—dissociative responses, emotional numbing (self-harm may be used as a tool to ‘feel alive’), passive compliance and poor access to cognitive functioning”. The study’s findings also suggested that enforcement of immigration laws poses “serious health challenges and risks for lifelong mental illness in children”. [footnotes omitted]
The litany goes on … and on. The record is irrefutable. By any reasonable standard, the child separation policy, whatever its intent may have been or is now, represents abuse of human rights on a scale not seen in this country in many decades.
The policy and its implementation differ in substance from, say, the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during the hysteria following the Pearl Harbor attack. While those practices were also unjustifiable, they occurred in the presence of an unprecedented perceived threat to the United States from an armed adversary, not remotely comparable to the situation at the southern U.S. border.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) both reported that DHS and HHS were unprepared to take on the extra responsibilities required by the zero-tolerance policy. https://bit.ly/2V8AP2x
The Trump administration knew or should have known this was true but chose to ignore it.
The recently concluded farce of an impeachment trial in the Senate makes clear that Trump will not be held accountable while he holds office. Therefore, the only way to hold Trump accountable is by rejecting his re-election effort. It is now up to the people at large to decide what kind of country we’re going to have. If re-elected, you can expect Trump, who already fancies himself a kind of monarch, to run rampant over the rights and interests not only of children at the border but of everyone.
Additional information about this subject can be found in an articles entitled “The Ethics of Separating Families at the Border,” in the Lawfare blog, https://bit.ly/39UDCjS and “Legal Considerations for Separating Families at the Border,” https://bit.ly/32nAVoE See also “U.S. Continues to Separate Migrant Families Despite Rollback of Policy,” in the New York Times, https://nyti.ms/2HGzLee and “Does a Specific Law Mandate Family Separation and Detention of Minors?,” in Snopes.com at https://bit.ly/3bVMaJa [the answer is ‘no.’] and ACLU’s “Family Separation By the Numbers,” https://bit.ly/39ZYJ4B from which the following graphic is copied:
See also the AP story “More than 5,400 children split at border, according to new count,” dated October 25, 2019, at https://nbcnews.to/2VbQDla