The Trauma of the Family Separation Policy on Migrant Children (2017–2022)
2. The United States Government Intentionally Separated Migrant Children from Their Parents
In February 2018, the [American Civil Liberties Union] ACLU sued [Immigration Customs and Enforcement] ICE on behalf of Ms. L, a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who entered the United States through the port of entry at San Diego, California on 1 November 2017, with her six-year-old daughter, S.S. Ms. L appeared before [Customs and Border Patrol] CBP and asserted her and her daughter’s claim for asylum, stating that she had a fear of returning to her country. Even though she presented credibly, CBP detained mother and child together in the San Diego, California area. But just four days later, officials took S.S. away from Ms. L and sent the child to Chicago, Illinois, leaving Ms. L imprisoned in California. Ms. L recounts that as officials forcibly took her child from her, S.S. screamed frantically to remain with her mother. For four months, until the ACLU filed the lawsuit in California federal court, Ms. L only was allowed to speak to S.S. six times via phone, without a video connection. About a month after the ACLU filed the complaint, ICE released Ms. L., and she traveled to Chicago to reunite with her daughter.(Olivares 2022, p. 520, Family Detention and Family Separation)
3. Looking Ahead to the Care and Protection of the Migrant Children Shattered by the Family Separation Policy
Dr. Colleen Kraft, the [former] President of AAP wrote in an editorial:Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families. Prolonged exposure to highly stressful situations—known as toxic stress- can disrupt a child’s brain architecture and affect his or her short- and long-term health. A parent or known caregiver’s role is to mitigate these dangers. When robbed of that buffer, children are susceptible to learning deficits and chronic conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder[,] and even heart disease. The government’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border counteracts every science-based recommendation I have ever made to families who seek to build, and not harm their children’s intellectual and emotional development.(Olivares 2020 at n.240)
Through their investigation, research, and experience, the authors then demonstrate how the U.S. Government’s treatment of migrant children in the Family Separation policy satisfies each of the three criteria. Thus, the authors conclude that the treatment is torture because “targeted physical and psychological abuse is inflicted on children. Their suffering can be painful and severe, especially given their stage of development and vulnerability. It is a purposeful US strategy to use children to reduce border crossings by their parents” (Oberg et al. 2020, at p. 2).“(1) severe pain and suffering” by the “intentional infliction of severe physical and/or psychological pain or suffering”(2) “Purposeful: the physical or psychological trauma is intentional and serves a specific purpose, such as coercion, intimidation, punishment and/or as a deterrence” and“(3) State consent: The trauma happens with the consent and/or acquiescence of State authorities.”(Oberg et al. 2020, at pp. 1–2)
Petitioners [the families] submitted the expert testimony regarding the specific psychological harm suffered by them as a result of the separation. In addition to the harm caused by the separation itself, the complaint revealed that one of the subject children was kept in a cage with other young children for four days at the Port Isabel Service Detention Center before being transferred. Expert testimony submitted in the case concluded that, “there likely will be both short-term and long-term physical and mental health consequences for the children” including higher risk for “mental health consequences, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD, substance abuse disorders” and “a higher risk of physical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer.(Rogerson 2021, at pp. 609–10)
4. Conclusions: Preventing Harm to Migrant Children by Stopping the Practice of Family Separation
By refusing to adopt a best interests of the child standard and acting in contravention to broadly accepted, evidenced-based practices which prioritize family unity barring imminent danger to the child, the federal government actively harms children. It runs a child welfare system which is parallel to those of the states, but which prioritizes immigration enforcement over children’s best interests.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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Olivares, M. The Trauma of the Family Separation Policy on Migrant Children (2017–2022). Laws 2023, 12, 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws12010017
Olivares M. The Trauma of the Family Separation Policy on Migrant Children (2017–2022). Laws. 2023; 12(1):17. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws12010017Chicago/Turabian Style
Olivares, Mariela. 2023. "The Trauma of the Family Separation Policy on Migrant Children (2017–2022)" Laws 12, no. 1: 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/laws12010017