Yesterday, ACLU lawyers argued in a court filing in U.S. District Court in San Diego that the Trump administration has separated almost 1,000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the Trump administration to curtail family separations and reunite families more than a year ago.
While Acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleenan has argued that children are only separated from their parents when the adults pose a risk to their children because of their “criminal record, a communicable disease, abuse, or neglect,” the ACLU has documented instances of child separation due to minor infractions, inability to communicate with border agents, a dirty diaper, or even medical issues such as the parent being HIV+ or having a broken leg.
ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt stated that the Trump administration is “taking what was supposed to be a narrow exception for cases where the parent was genuinely a danger to the child and using it as a loophole to continue family separation. What everyone understands intuitively and what the medical evidence shows, this will have a devastating effect on the children and possibly cause permanent damage to these children, not to mention the toll on the parents.”
Jennifer Nagda, policy director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, testified to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform that of the 120 separated children the organization worked with, the organization found that most of the separations were “contrary to the best interests of the child.” “DHS officials with no child welfare expertise are making split-second decisions, and these decisions have traumatic, lifelong consequences for the children and their families.”
“Forcibly separating children from their parents is like setting a house on fire. Prolonging that separation is like preventing the first responders from doing their job and letting the fire continue to burn,” argued Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School in an affidavit included in the ACLU filing.
The family separation policy resulted from the announcement of a “zero-tolerance” border policy, which aimed to prosecute as many border-crossers as possible – even those who turned themselves over to Board Patrol seeking asylum. Under this policy, parents are immediately sent into criminal custody, while children are classified as “unaccompanied alien children.” This classification used to only apply to minors crossing the border without an adult relative. It allowed Border Patrol to forcefully separate the children from their parents.
Media Resources: Washington Post 7/20/19; Feminist Newswire 6/20/18