By HTP Editorial
The Trump administration is pushing a new immigration policy which treats illegal border crossing into the United States as a criminal, rather than a civil offense. This results in children being separated from their families while the adults go through the criminal justice system. Immigration declined significantly during Trump’s first year in office, but has surged in recent months, leading to this additional policy meant to deter families from entering the U.S. illegally.
“The practice gained momentum in the last two months, particularly in Texas, where many families from Central America seek to cross, they say…
“In California, public defenders said that they had not seen the practice until the recent caravan of Central Americans — the group shrank to 300 from 1,200 by the time it reached the border — grabbed headlines and drew the ire of Mr. Trump.
‘We began to hear rumors that separations were happening a couple months ago, but hadn’t encountered any,’ said Mr. Cahn, adding that the caravan members were the first manifestation of the new policy in his region.” (NYT)
More than 700 children have been separated from their parents since October 1, and this figure is likely to soar as drug and gang violence in Central America, particularly in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, continue to send families seeking safe haven. The ACLU is challenging the policy in the courts, arguing that “it is a violation of due process to separate parents and children simply as a means to deter illegal immigration. Only parents who are abusive or unfit to care for their children can legally have them taken away.” (NYT)
While the parents are detained and charged with criminal offenses, the children are sent to a federal facility run by the Department of Health and Human Services. From there, children are permitted to leave with a family member already legally established in the U.S., or are released to some other custodial arrangement with foster parents.
The typical length of separation can range from 10 days to months and months, with debilitating effects on parents, many of whom have already suffered trauma in their home countries and en route, and especially on children.
“Studies have shown that children who are separated from their parents can suffer from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as exhibit behavioral problems and poor educational outcomes.
In an affidavit attached to the A.C.L.U. lawsuit, the heads of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Child Welfare League of America, among others, strongly urged the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, not to break up families.
‘Separation from family leaves children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, no matter what the care setting. In addition, traumatic separation from parents creates toxic stress in children and adolescents that can profoundly impact their development,’ they said.” (NYT)
Perhaps even more alarming than the emotional impact of such separation on children is the number of children in the system who have gone missing altogether. The Department of Health and Human Services have reportedly lost track of 1,475 children who were placed in sponsor homes across the country.
“Since the dramatic surge of border crossings in 2013, the federal government has placed more than 180,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.
An AP investigation found in 2016 that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay. At the time, many adult sponsors didn’t undergo thorough background checks, government officials rarely visited homes and in some cases had no idea that sponsors had taken in several unrelated children, a possible sign of human trafficking…
…Advocates say it is hard to know how many minors may be in dangerous conditions, in part because some disappear before social workers can follow up with them and never show up in court.
From October to December 2017, HHS called 7,635 children the agency had placed with sponsors, and found 6,075 of the children were still living with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been deported and 52 were living with someone else. The rest were missing, said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS.”(TIME)
Some children placed in “foster” families have been forced into slave labor (as in the case of the Guatemalan teens in Ohio forced to work on egg farms under threat of death), some have been placed with adults pretending to be relatives but who are actually human traffickers.
A senate subcommittee is investigating how this happened and how to increase monitoring and accountability. Subcommittee chairman Sen. Rob Portman (R) has said, “These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked.” (TIME)
Given the recent evidence that our government agencies appear to be ill-equipped (or, to be generous, under-equipped) to handle the immigration surge from Central America, the policy of separating children from their parents at the border is both reckless and dangerous.
Click here to sign a petition at MoveOn.org asking Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to stop the practice of separating families at the border.
Click here to donate to the ACLU