Opinion: Tragedy of detained children remains a humanitarian crisis

Families belong together. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement. Yet five months after the Trump administration began its policy of forcibly separating families at the border, 416 immigrant children remain in government custody, at risk of severe physical and health implications, because the government ripped them out of the arms of their parents and guardians.

The administration’s new plan to address the asylum rights of separated families has the potential to eliminate one impediment to reunification. But significant barriers remain, and there is a very real possibility that some of the 416 children could face long-term or even permanent isolation from their families because of this administration’s inhumane and incomprehensible family separation policy.

For months, the administration has claimed that the “ineligible” children and their families remain separated out of necessity. This is simply not true. The Trump administration created this humanitarian crisis when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero-tolerance” policy in April. It chose to separate families without a plan for reuniting them, it chose not to track family members concurrently, and it chose to deport parents without their children. For a long time, the administration also forced parents to make an impossible choice: reunification with their child or the pursuit of legal claims like asylum. With Wednesday’s plan, some families that remain in the United States will find relief from this ultimatum but for many others the damage has already been done.

If the plan is accepted by three federal judges and implemented in good faith by the administration, it will facilitate the reunification of only some of the 304 children whose parents were deported, 199 children whose parents waived reunification rights, and 34 children whose parents received a “red flag” from the administration. Allegations by families and advocates of alarming violations of due process do not just describe coercion to relinquish reunification or asylum rights; many parents also reportedly agreed to deportation under intimidation or misleading conditions. Their pathway to reunification and claiming asylum is less clear. Furthermore, the red flag process by which the administration determines which parents are fit to be rejoined with their children allows administration officials to essentially terminate parental rights without transparency or accountability.

Without action to eliminate all of these barriers, many families remain at risk of suffering permanent separation.

I witnessed the inhumanity of this nightmare firsthand in June, when I led a delegation of 25 of my Democratic colleagues to visit immigration detention facilities in South Texas. What we saw was shocking and can only be described as child endangerment and psychological abuse. Mounds of silver Mylar blankets on concrete floors concealed shell-shocked children, adults and children were caged like animals behind ceiling-high cyclone fences, and sobbing mothers desperately asked if they would ever see their children again.

At the McAllen Border Patrol Station, I watched as a 6-year-old girl was ordered out of a cell labeled “single females” by a border patrol officer. Through an interpreter we asked, “Where is your mom?” Fighting back tears, she pointed to a cell labeled “families.” She …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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