Latest news on the US government has been focused on the USA-NK negotiations, re-diverting attention from an issue closer to home. In April 2018, the Trump administration began separating families participating in illegal border crossings in an attempt to deter future migrants. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared this the new zero tolerance policy implementation process in May. However, under this change, there has already been almost 2,000 children taken from their families, with the government housing them in tent cities and detention centres; isolated from the adults.
In this situation, the Trump administration justifies its actions, claiming this new method of implementation is much fairer. In this argument, it is claimed that families are separated because the adults are criminals being prosecuted, while the children are not to blame and will remain unchanged. However, this separation opens the door to a plethora of racial, political and health-based dilemmas.
The US-Mexico border has presented an ongoing issue for decades, President Obama even acknowledged this in a 2014 speech, noting that “our immigration system is broken – and everybody knows it.” However, with the Trump administration’s new zero-tolerance policy, family separation policy symbolizes a resurgence of desperation to intimidate their way to a closed border. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral” noted the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops; discounting any religious justifications the administration has utilized thus far. Resultantly, the events of the last six weeks have drawn global attention to the extensive implications and resulting damage from doing so. These issues range from mental health through to reactive behaviours that will build to violent issues in the future.
Within this new framework, however, there are various opportunities for the US government to exploit vulnerabilities. There is no clear reunification process or any guarantee within the foreseeable future. Consequently, prosecuted adults are becoming unstable and vulnerable to manipulation. The Washington Post reported recently that a Guatemalan man was pressured into a plea deal as he’d been led to believe it was the quickest way to become reunited with his son. However, in other cases, this separation has proven too much. Often these illegal border crossers are fleeing an array of issues; from ethnic conflict, violence or severe poverty. Consequently, they arrive in an already fragile state, and through taking their children away, a further mental strain is caused. This was demonstrated through a Honduran man’s suicide in a detention cell proceeding the taking of his child by the US.
The party suffering the most, however, are the children. As mentioned above, these migrants are often fleeing horrendous scenarios that no child should be faced with. From then removing youth from their familiar family structure, they become excessively traumatized, creating ‘psychological scars that will take a lifetime to undo’, according to psychiatry specialist Luis Zaya, from the University of Texas. He further elaborates upon the impacts on brain growth and development which these excess factors such as stress can have on a child or anyone’s brain. Overall, as further expressed by Zaya, it can be drawn that the administration’s policy of family separation ‘really is an inhumane approach to handling the refugee crisis’.
It is important to note, however, that this approach protects the children from other adults. Contrastingly, it is important to consider that the US government has attempted to take a protective approach to this dilemma. In detention centres such as Australia’s Nauru off-shore centre, families lived amongst other detainees. In that particular case, Amnesty International reported various cases of child violence included molestations. In America’s unorthodox approach of separating the children from adult groups, the risk of deviant adult behaviour is eliminated. Furthermore, the children are also sheltered and protected from exposure to the prosecution systems. However, this is a misleading attempt to solve one problem while causing hundreds of other issues for already suffering children.
Trauma fuels hate and resentment.
Through forcing these youth into a state of psychological trauma the government is building the next generation of issues. Trauma can alter human behaviour, as it triggers one of the most humane responses to stimuli; a fight or flight reaction. In the case of these children, there is no longer a ‘flight’ option, as they are held in youth detention awaiting their future. Following the separation of families, there are only two clear directions for a child’s life to take; family reunification or institutional integration.
If institutional integration were to occur, a child’s life, identity and personal understanding would be destroyed. Within the Hispanic and Latina ethnic groups, culture and family are held above all else. By disrupting these structures, there is a risk of a cultural-ethnic genocide, as reflected in the Australian Stolen Generation. The Stolen Generation refers to an era where the Australian government took indigenous children from their families and tribes to Westernise or institutionalize the people. This was a misguided attempt to integrate the indigenous into ‘modern society’ that lead to an immense cultural and ethnic loss for the Aboriginal people.
While the US government is seeking to help these children and provide them with refuge, removing them from their cultural family groups, their heritage becomes eliminated. Under the United Nations Genocide Conventions of 1951, Article II states that “…genocide means….acts committed with intent to destroy…racial or religious groups, such as e ) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Although this is not the openly intended outcome of the scenario, there is still a substantial risk that these youths may not be reunited and may become integrated into the Western-American society.
In the case of reunification, these reunited families will permanently distrust the American government and justice systems. When these families are taken into custody and torn apart, they are at their weakest, lowest points, only to have the Anglo-American system tear them away from loved ones, putting them on trial for seeking a future and safety for their children. In this case, there is a predetermined relationship of distrust and victimization built upon initial interaction with the state. While this may not be clear to a child that’s taken from their family, the adults will be positioned to view events under this light. Through reunification, the children are then positioned to grow up in a household filled with fear, resentment and distrust towards all authoritative figures within the state.
Further building upon distrust or hate towards the state, trauma is also inflicted upon these children and their families. The main issue caused by this trauma is hate and resentment towards the oppressor; the Trump administration and American governmental structures. This creates a racial divide; fuelling us versus them split within communities. Racial resentment is a dangerous threat to peace and security, as demonstrated through numerous sub-state group structures, particularly within states such as America. This is in reference to America’s long-term struggle with gang violence and terrorist factions. It is important to consider both gangs and terrorist organizations draw on marginalization, hate, fear and resentment towards authoritative actors such as the government. Consequently, actions such as tearing families apart for seeking asylum could fuel the next wave of Hispanic-Latina violence within America.
While it is important to note the administration is not charging children and is shielding them from the prosecution system, this is not the way to go about it. The current process employed by the Trump administration affects the mental health of people seeking refuge, while also inciting the next generation of violence, distrust and hate within America. Overall, this process needs re-evaluation before more lives are torn apart by the Trump administration’s policies for family separation.