The United States government policy of separating migrant families at the border has continued to wreak havoc and inflict suffering. in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, with parents still missing, reunifications blocked, and families reunited struggling to get the pieces of their lives back.
Fixing the errors of Trump’s globally condemned separation policy is one of the most urgent and challenging tasks facing the incoming administration. Civil rights groups that have been fighting for years to reunite thousands of families are now pushing for a bold and swift response from Joe Biden – one that reunites victims, grants them protection in the US, and provides restitution.
“We torture these families, we take their children,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, managing attorney for Al Otro Lado, a group that has been working to gather deported parents with their children. “Some parents and children have not seen each other in over three years. It is an abomination and we need immediate action … and accountability to ensure this never happens again. “
A critical step, advocates say, will be a full accounting of the extent of family separations and the government’s recognition of the lasting consequences.
The cruelty and chaos of ‘zero tolerance’
In April 2018, the Trump administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy to process all unauthorized border crossings, without exception of asylum seekers or people with children. As a result, US immigration officials forcibly separated the children from their parents and guardians and brought thousands of criminal cases against migrants who had fled the violence to seek asylum in the United States. The parents were detained while their children were transferred and treated as “unaccompanied minors”, imprisoned and shelters for young migrants.
“It just felt like chaos,” recalled Roberto López, the community outreach coordinator for the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), who was working in South Texas courts where hundreds of separated parents faced criminal charges on a line. mounting. “It was a massive prosecution… There was a lot of pain. Many times they asked: ‘Do you know where my son is? When will I see them? And we had to tell them over and over again, ‘We don’t know.’
In Phoenix, Arizona, Vanessa Pineda of the Youth Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights suddenly came across young children in children’s migrant shelters, where she typically worked with teens who had arrived at the border without guardians. Some children thought their parents had abandoned them, he said, especially since custodial parents had no way of locating or contacting their children.
“I was trying to find out where the parents were, but the children had no information,” Pineda said. “It was so horrible.”
After the reality of politics became more public, it even leaked audio of children sobbing in custody, the backlash escalated, and in June 2018, Trump signed an order to end the separations. It was a rare policy change during his presidency, and it came just before a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite families.
But the separations did not stop. The United States continued to take children to the border by making vague and unsubstantiated claims that their parents were a danger or by citing old criminal records. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported shocking examples in court, including a man considered a bad father because his daughter’s diaper was not changed; a man separated from three daughters because he had HIV; and a three-year-old girl separated because officials disputed her father’s paternity (which was ultimately confirmed by a DNA test).
Meanwhile, the ACLU litigation and a series of investigations have slowly begun to uncover the scale of the policy, including revelations that the United States was separating families in July 2017 under a secret “pilot” program. The government has admitted to having inadequate monitoring systems and has resisted disclosing your information, but records suggest that more than 5,500 children were separated since 2017. Hundreds were less than five years old, including Some what were they infants and young children.
The ACLU and other groups have helped reunite thousands of families, but many are still separated. Many parents who were deported without their children were forced to make a devastating decision: having their children deported back to them, which could put them in danger or remain separated indefinitely.
Some remain missing, and a court-appointed committee was unable to locate the parents of 628 children separated.
the most missing parents who were deported were sent to Guatemala, with others sent to Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. Designated nonprofits use the limited records they have received from the government to try to locate parents over the phone, which is sometimes an impossible task when deported parents are in remote and rural areas.
When advocates communicate with parents, phone calls are challenging. Some parents worry that the US government is trying to deport their children or find a way to stop them once again: “People are really fearful and suspicious, 100% rightly so, and that’s a barrier Huge, “said Leah Chavla of the Women’s Refugee Commission, one of the groups making calls.
For those who cannot be reached by phone, groups like Justice in Motion have networks of advocates on the ground who conduct extensive searches in Central America. “These families are so devastated and they feel so abandoned that they are stunned when one of the advocates walks in the door and says we can help,” said Cathleen Caron, Executive Director.
But that work has been significantly hampered this year, first by Covid-19, which forced a huge slowdown in searches, and then by devastating hurricanes in November.
What can biden do
Migrant groups hope Biden will act quickly to reunify families. The president-elect has vowed to reverse the policies that separate families at the border and launch a task force to identify missing parents.
But advocates want Biden to go further and use his executive powers to provide legal status and protection to all families, ensuring that they can reunite and remain in the U.S. Parents who have already suffered unfathomable damage shouldn’t have to face lengthy asylum trials or processes that could result in denials or arrests, they argue.
“These families, regardless of what brought them to our border, were later subjected to a massive human rights violation,” said Jennifer Nagda of the Young Center. “The correct answer is to allow them to return and live safely here, thanks to what we did.”
Even if the 628 parents identified in the court case were located, there are many more that were foundBut the Trump administration barred him from meeting in the United States since the parents were deported, said Donohoe of Al Otro Lado. Federal litigation has relief not provided for most deported parents.
Donohoe represents approximately 30 separated families who have been denied reunification and whose best hope is an expansive Biden policy that allows separated families to live in the US “I have no illusions that this is going to be easy. We will follow each and every one of the ways to recover them. “
Advocates have also continued to identify discrepancies in federal reports on the number of separated children. In only one Texas court, TCRP identified 939 children who were separated after zero tolerance ended, and more than 500 of them had come to the United States with adults who were not considered parents, such as adult siblings and stepparents.
Reunited families will also be dealing with lifelong psychological damage. The group Physicians for Human Rights concluded earlier this year that the policy constituted “torture” after evaluating families who were separated for 30 to 90 days. Child victims suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety and other mental health conditions, and advocates say they need compensation and resources.
Conchita Cruz, co-executive director of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (Asap), said her group has connected more than 200 families with attorneys to pursue monetary damages. She hopes the new administration can resolve these kinds of lawsuits in a way that provides protection and restitution to victims, as well as broader accountability: “There has to be a cost for this kind of abuse.
However, the true cost of the policy will never be known, Nagda said, noting that the government’s disclosures have been incomplete: “We will always have to live with the fact that there will be children and families that we don’t know about. And that is simply unacceptable. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism