This week’s immigration news has highlighted, once again, that the United States will go to great lengths to torture immigrant communities.
In a move intended to punish and terrorize families, the Department of Justice announced they will separate children from their parents at the border and at ports of entry for those seeking asylum. In May alone, 658 children were taken from their parents, including 100 children younger than 4 years old.
The term “family separation” does not fully capture the cruelty and inhumanity of what’s happening. But the small snippets of stories filtering out from immigration courtrooms paint a more accurate, sickening picture: a young child screaming “don’t take me away from my mommy” while she is ripped away from her asylum-seeking mother and sent across the country alone. Distraught parents begging for any information about their children as they’re being deported. The U.S. government keeping grandmothers in taxpayer-funded cages for the crime of crossing an arbitrary line to protect their grandchildren.
If being separated from their families weren’t already traumatizing enough, a new report from the ACLU documents the horrifying abuse of children by Customs & Border “Protection,” including sexual and physical assaults, rape threats, and denial of medical care, food, and water.
These stories brought renewed attention to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)’s admission back in April that they were not sure of the locations of 1,500 of the 7,635 unaccompanied immigrant children that the agency had placed in 2017 (before the new DOJ policy went into effect). DHHS has placed immigrant children with human traffickers before, leading to speculation that these children had been trafficked and a viral and misinformation-riddled #WhereAreTheChildren hashtag.
As Tina Vasquez and Josie Duffy Rice pointed out, the “missing” children story is more complicated that much of the media coverage suggests. Many of the children DHHS cannot locate are probably with undocumented family members who are avoiding contact out of fear of deportation, given that DHHS collaborates and shares information with ICE. The nature of our immigration system is such that even well-intentioned calls for more DHHS oversight would lead to more detention and deportation.
While this new family separation policy is unprecedented and stunningly cruel, the United States’ approach to immigrants has destroyed families long before Trump and Sessions came along. The ACLU report documents abuse committed during the Obama administration, from 2009 to 2014. Family detention — the Obama-era policy that this new one replaced — also profoundly traumatized kids and their caregivers.
As activists have pointed out, these policies are at their core expressions of American values. It is far from the first time that children, pregnancy, and reproduction become government tools to control and silence communities of color—from the Native children who were forced into government boarding schools and later into foster care, to families ripped apart during slavery, to the forced sterilization of black, indigenous and Latina women.
While this policy is new, the practice is as old as America itself.
Image credit: NBC Connecticut
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