In face of the backlash from the media, the public and even Republicans, Donald Trump backed away from forcibly separating children from their families. His solution is to lock them up together, indefinitely. There is one big problem with this plan, as there was with his original policy, it is violation of a court decree from 2015 that required the government to release child migrants from detention after 20 days. Trump can’t just dismiss a federal court order by the stroke of his magic marker.
The solution to the crisis of family separation at the US-Mexico border, the Trump administration has decided, is to get rid of a 1997 federal court decision that strictly limits the government’s ability to keep children in immigration detention.
The administration has fingered Flores v. Reno, or the “Flores settlement,” as the reason it is “forced” to separate parents from their children to prosecute them. It claims that because it cannot keep parents and children in immigration detention together, it has no choice but to detain parents in immigration detention (after they’ve been criminally prosecuted for illegal entry) and send the children to the Department of Health and Human Services as “unaccompanied alien children.”
The Flores settlement requires the federal government to do two things: to place children with a close relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay,” rather than keeping them in custody; and to keep immigrant children who are in custody in the “least restrictive conditions” possible.
Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation that would overrule Flores and allow children to be kept with their parents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody while they are put through criminal prosecution and deportation proceedings — which many migrant families fight by claiming asylum in the US, a process that can stretch out for months or years. [..]
It’s not at all clear that Trump can, legally, issue an executive order that would override the Flores settlement. That’s why analysts are assuming that any order Trump issues to keep families together in DHS custody will be challenged by a lawsuit and may get thwarted.
If DHS somehow manages to craft an executive order that evades that issue, or if Congress passes any of the suite of Republican bills that purport to end family separation by expanding family detention, it will mean one of two things.
Either the Trump administration will start keeping families in detention for as long as it takes to fully adjudicate their asylum cases — which can take months or years — or it will need to ram them through an “expedited” legal process to minimize their time in detention.
President Obama tried the latter in 2014. It went horrifically. Pro bono lawyers who went to family detention facilities (which were flung together in a matter of weeks) reported that it was all but impossible for families to get due process for their asylum claims.
The former is what families are still going through at the Pennsylvania facility. The long-term detention of immigrant children raises some of the same concerns that keeping them in custody without their parents does, in terms of long-term trauma. Bright lights in the Burks facility reportedly keep children from sleeping well, for example — and they can be disciplined if they try to climb into a parent’s bed for comfort.
Furthermore, getting rid of the Flores settlement entirely wouldn’t just get rid of the mandate to release children; it would also get rid of the requirements for what conditions children must be held in. In other words, the legal standards that undergird the Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities — standards that Trump administration officials brag are among the highest in the world — would be wiped away.
Depending on what replaced Flores, it’s possible that ICE could simply use existing adult detention facilities to herd children into as well.
Nor does Trump’s EO solve the problem of the thousands of children being detained in shelters and tents around the country far apart from their families. Neither the Department of Homeland Security or Health and Human Services has explained how they are going to reunite these children with their families. Some so young they have learned to talk or walk,.Quite a few of their families have already been deported leaving their children stranded in detention.The psychological damage being done to these children is irreparable:
Those harmful effects may run the gamut from future depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to violent tendencies, substance abuse and difficulty forming relationships down the line, according to Dr. Jeff Temple, a professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch and a board member of the Texas Psychological Association. And though not every child who experiences trauma will develop these conditions, Temple says the kids in question, who have likely faced other stressors prior to being taken from their parents, may be particularly at risk.
“It’s a three-fold stress: the reason they left their country, the journey [to the U.S.] and now being, at a vulnerable time, separated from their parents,” Temple says. “Really what that amounts to is child abuse. These kids will experience negative and irreparable harm.”
The effects of that harm may evolve over time, says Antonio Puente, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who specializes in cultural neuropsychology. What may begin as acute emotional distress could reemerge later in life as PTSD, behavioral issues and other signs of lasting neuropsychological damage, he says.
“The longer a child is separated, the worse the situation becomes. This is often hidden initially and becomes more complicated as time evolves, only to emerge in other times of crisis or, for that matter, in adulthood,” Puente says. “These situations are emotional at the onset and neuropsychological in the long-term.”
The separation policy was put into place with the typical knee-jerk reaction to an imaginary crisis on our southern borders. As usual with thus ship of fools, there is no plan to keep track of these children or to reunite them with relatives after their immigration status has been determined.
There is no process for parents to locate their children except a 1-800 number. Most of these people do not speak English, others speak dialects of Spanish that are not commonly spoken in the US, nor do they have access to phones or lawyers. Some have already been deported.
This policy is tantamount to kidnapping since the main purpose was to get Democrats and recalcitrant Republicans on board with funding a useless wall that Trump promised would be paid for by Mexico. Not only that, it is blatantly racist with Trump and his fellow child abusers using terms such as “catch and release” and “infestation” as though these refugees from violence are undersized lobsters or a problem for an exterminator. Let’s not forget to mention Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III using biblical passages that were used to justify slavery and the Holocaust and White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders, a so-called Christian, defending it. Even evangelical Trump sycophant Franklin Graham couldn’t defend that or this inhumane policy of kidnapping children.
This new policy will, hopefully, not end well for Trump or his cohorts. It is just another chapter in the long nightmare for these families and their children.