An increasing number of families seeking to migrate into the U.S. are being split up, and some of the children are being separated from their parents indefinitely.
As part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on immigrants attempting to sneak in or find asylum in the United States, all adults caught doing so are to be criminally prosecuted. However, it is often not just adults alone being arrested at the border, but families. Then, as a repercussion of Trump’s policy, children are being removed from their parents as ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ and placed into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement before being sent to short term foster care or government facilities. These systems are significantly overloaded, and in the end are only to able to reunite some families.
Many first time detainees are put on mass trial after a few weeks and then sentenced to time served, however, this is often too late to protect the wellbeing of the families. The American Psychological Association has warned extensively of the risks not only to the children’s mental and physical health, but also the grave risks for the mothers and fathers. The Washington Post recently reported on the suicide of a man in custody after he was separated from his wife and children indefinitely, a story that sheds light on just how difficult these situations are.
The scale of this problem is also reaching crisis levels as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) infiltrates schools, places of business, and private homes to find undocumented immigrants for deportation. Statistics released to Congress from the ICE show in the 14 days between May 7 and 21, 658 children were separated from their parents. The United Nations Human Rights Office has called for “an immediate halt to this practice,” stating that whilst the US is the only U.N. state to have not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, they are still obligated under international human rights law to protect the best interests of the children. Whilst Trump has appealed to a contextually manipulated biblical basis to this policy, religious officials have also condemned the actions of his administration immoral.
One of the main arguments from the Trump administration as to the need for this policy is that it will act as a tough deterrent for people attempting to illegally enter the U.S., essentially following the ‘build a wall’ mentality. However, splitting children from their parents is not an accetable way to deter illegal immigration. More resources need to be allocated to the understanding of why people are choosing the illegal option in the first place, which may be bad news for the Trump administration as it continues to make the path to U.S. citizenship increasingly difficult.
Families are unlikely to take such grave risks if they have feasible and safer alternatives. Therefore, an approach to decreasing illegal migration on U.S. borders should be multi-faceted, encouraging the growth and security of their neighbouring countries so there is less incentive to leave. Furthermore, there needs to be a shift in government position, so that the forced division of families becomes unacceptable. It is critical that policies serve and protect people and it is therefore critical that families are not separated regardless of their situation. Regardless of why people attempt to enter the U.S. illegally, regardless of whether they will be granted asylum or deported, it is critical that families and children can remain together.
After an overwhelming display of public outrage across the U.S., and an ongoing lawsuit filed against the family separation policy by the ACLU, on Wednesday June 20, President Trump stated he will order an immediate end to the separation of families. This news comes as a surprise after President Trump had earlier claimed there was nothing he could do about the policy he created, and “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.” While the news is good for the families currently in the system, it does not erase the evils of the past, it also must lead to a broader discussion about xenophobia in the U.S., and how to deal with the horrendous practices of ICE.