President Trump may want people to believe he ended his devastating policy of separating children from their families at the US border, but his reversal (and subsequent back and forth confusion) doesn’t turn back the clock for those who have already been separated, and does not end the mistreatment of families seeking refuge through asylum in the United States. Trump’s order also fails to lay out a humane policy for how families and children will be treated going forward, an omission that will likely lead to even more trauma for immigrant families and ongoing legal wrangling. Most recently, 17 states including North Carolina filed a suit against the Trump administration, and, in a separate lawsuit, a U.S. district judge ordered that border authorities reunite children with their families.
Trump’s executive order is no act of heroism, but rather an insufficient response to a crisis created by his own administration’s cruel policies.
More than 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the border since the “zero tolerance” policy took effect in early May as part of the administration’s latest attack against immigrant families. Family separations drew widespread condemnation from professional groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and thousands of individual mental health professionals.
Health professionals point to a range of short- and long-term harms that family separation imposes on children. In the short term, serious cases of traumatic separation, reactive attachment disorder, and sustained toxic stress lead to a range of coping strategies, including aggression, withdrawal, self-harm, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can undermine long term health, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and substance use disorders, and inhibiting the formation of healthy relationships.
In addition to the events at the U.S.-Mexico border, families currently residing in the United States are being separated in ICE raids, most recently in Ohio, North Carolina, and Tennessee. These, too, result in families being torn apart, have a similar negative impact on children, and are issues of concern to medical professionals, teachers, social workers and more. These traumatic experiences will continue for children whose families face the daily fear of deportation, and for the thousands of children who have already been separated from their families.
It remains to be seen what will happen with the more than 2,000 children already separated and detained away from their parents, and whether they will eventually be reunited with their families. If our leaders in Congress wish to prioritize the needs of children, they will:
- Speak out against family separation under the DHS/DOJ “zero-tolerance” policy that uses the well-being of children for political purposes;
- Support bills and resolutions that keep families together, protect them from danger, and uphold due process for children and adults seeking safety;
- Withhold funding from DHS and its divisions until the “zero-tolerance” policy is rescinded;
- Exercise stronger oversight for ICE and CBP to address human rights abuses and practices that are contrary to constitutional values;
- Prohibit private detention facilities from profiting from detaining immigrant children and adults; and
- Require DOJ to protect asylum seekers and ensure due process for all people.
This current crisis is ongoing and new revelations are happening daily. A commensurate response will require many organizations and civic leaders in North Carolina to collaborate to end the unnecessary separation of immigrant families we are seeing now.
Suzy Khachaturyan is an MSW/MPH intern with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, and is a former refugee.