Home > Uncategorized > “You Will Never See Your Child Again” – posted 3/15/2020

“You Will Never See Your Child Again” – posted 3/15/2020

It has now been almost three years since the Trump Administration implemented its family separation policy at the Southern border and two years since the issue was widely publicized. While the story has receded from public view, questions remain about what happened and what is continuing to happen. It is only now that the consequences of the family separation policy are coming into clearer focus.

Some of those questions were answered when Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based non-profit that investigates human rights violations around the world, released a new investigative report, “You Will Never See Your Child Again” The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation.

The investigators interviewed 17 adults and 9 children from Central America who had been separated from family members 60 to 69 days. The investigators concluded that the policy of family separation constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that met a legal definition of torture.

The report itself is very eye-opening and I am going to quote from it liberally. The interviews with adults and children who were victims of the family separations show the vicious intentionality behind the policy. One key finding:

“U.S. officials intentionally carried out actions causing severe pain and suffering, in order to punish, coerce, and intimidate Central American asylum seekers to give up their asylum claims.”

It was the intentionality behind the policy that contributed to why the physicians’ group found the Trump Administration’s policy met a legal definition of torture.

The report found that when immigration authorities abruptly separated parents from their children they were prohibited from saying good-bye or consoling them. Immigration officials forcibly removed children from their parents’ arms, removed parents while their children slept, or simply “disappeared” the children while their parents were in different holding cells or receiving medical care.

Immigration officials failed to provide any explanation as to why families were being separated, where their families were being sent or how they would be reunited.

A mother from El Salvador recounted her interaction with U.S. officials when she asked why her daughter was being taken away from her. The official responded that her daughter was going to be adopted by an American family and she would be deported and would never see her daughter again.

Another mother, when asking about the whereabouts of her child, was ignored by officials and told she was never going to see her daughter again and “she should learn to deal with it”.

Despite being asylum seekers, other parents were accused of breaking the law and were told that separation from their children was punishment for this “crime”.

A mother from Guatemala described immigration authorities using coercive tactics to force her to give up on her asylum claim. She reported that officers told her she was going to be separated from her daughter unless she signed deportation paperwork that was written in English. She said the immigration officials told her they would make sure she would never see her daughter again.

Another mother from Honduras described being told she would be separated from her son. She asked for an explanation and the agent said they were simply “following orders”.

Multiple families expressed a fear of never seeing loved ones again. Two of the mothers interviewed expressed feelings of guilt along with the perception that they were “bad mothers” for letting their children be taken from them. The report says that other parents felt hopeless, were desperate to be reunited with their children, as if their life had no value, and they were shocked this could happen to them in the United States.

Interviewed parents experienced heightened anxiety, frequent crying, nervousness, low appetite, lack of motivation, exhaustion and an inability to sleep. Some reported feeling “devastated”, that their minds were on “overload”, that they could do nothing but think of their children and whether they were safe. Others reported crying and feeling like they were in a “black hole”.

Parents’ grief, despair and terror diminished their ability to concentrate and think clearly to such a degree that it sometimes interfered with their credible fear interviews with asylum officers.

Clinicians wrote that children exhibited reactions that included regression in age-appropriate behavior, crying, not eating, having nightmares and other sleeping difficulties, as well as clinging to parents and feeling scared even after parental reunification.

The interviewed individuals, both adults and children, met diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health disorder including post traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. The clinicians recognized that symptoms were exacerbated by pre-existing trauma from events in the asylum seekers’ home countries. The families had fled physical violence and death threats which led to their making the long and dangerous journey to the U.S..

The report also found that the Department of Homeland Security was unprepared and ill-equipped to handle reunification of families after their separation. The Department originally planned to separate as many as 26,000 children even though they knew they did not have the technological capability to track those cases.

In concluding that the forced separation of children and parents by the Trump Administration met a legal definition of torture, the Physicians for Human Rights utilized the Istanbul Protocol, the UN guidelines for documenting torture.

The Istanbul Protocol, in its upcoming updated editions states that the determining factor for distinguishing torture from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment “may best be understood to be the purpose of the conduct and the powerlessness of the victim, rather than the intensity of the pain or suffering inflicted”.

Here the evidence suggests the harm was severe, especially considering the impact on small children. Government actors carried out the harm and they did it with a clear intentionality related to intimidation and coercion.

The report also concluded that the Trump Administration policy and practice of family separation committed the crime of enforced disappearance which is prohibited under international law. Enforced disappearance is defined as any deprivation of liberty by the state where there is concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

While a federal court judge issued a nationwide injunction on the family separation policy back in June 2018 and President Trump signed an Executive Order supposedly stopping family separations, at least 1142 children have been separated from their families since the official end of the policy.

Untreated trauma can have chronic and long-lasting effects on children and adults. As the report says, those who experience trauma, especially as children, have higher rates of chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death. There is also an increased risk of psychiatric disorders.

This story is not over and advocates must maintain a high level of vigilance that more family separations and enforced disappearances do not reoccur.

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