Since April, President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has worn heavy on the American conscience, more so with the heartbreaking accounts of children being separated from their parents. And even though the administration recently reversed its family separation policy, thousands of children are still locked up, waiting to be reunited with their families while living in inhumane conditions.
A child’s journey through the detainment system can vary, but most start in the caged holding cells of Customs and Border Protection facilities. After three days they are transferred to child immigrant shelters or tent camps, both restrictive of the press and public viewing. In a few cases planned press visits were allowed; however, the tent camps were still off-limits, suggesting just how harsh conditions must be at these camps.
“They were running around and crying for their mother and basically generally displaying signs of trauma,” said whistleblower Antar Davidson, a former shelter worker who quit after having to separate two young brothers.
More disturbing, are the numerous photos and audio recordings detailing treatment in facilities where children slept in tin foil and begged to see their families. According to NPR, some locations even used sedatives and antipsychotics on the children to calm them down. Psychologically and physically tormented, the children locked up in these centers are trapped in a system that moves them on schedules like inmates.
Before the policy’s enforcement, immigrant families were put under supervised release within the states while awaiting trial. However, the “zero tolerance” policy entailed detainment of parents crossing the US border and separation of their children, even if seeking asylum. Meant to intimidate incoming undocumented migrants, Attorney General Jeff Sessions supported the harsh initiative claiming, “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” But the policy was met with disapproval from the beginning, with many Republicans and even Trump supporters asking for a reasonable solution.
In late June, in response to weeks of mounting public outrage, President Trump signed a new executive order reversing his family separation policy. Following the reversal, a federal district court issued a nationwide injunction ordering reunification of children with parents; however, there is no definitive plan to do so. Moreover, Steven Wagner, deputy assistant secretary Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed that the Office of Refugee Resettlement had misplaced 1,500 immigrant children’s locations. Although the adjustment for families to stay together has been made, many parents remain unsure when they will see their children again.
The harsh policies implemented by the administration are tearing families apart, forcing them into custody without immediate contact or information on each other’s whereabouts. These families come over the border looking for the American Dream and instead fall into the American Nightmare, corralled like animals.
In a country built by immigrants, we must remember that ‘legal’ action does not equal divine morality. If you wish to help the families affected by these policies, you can support one of the dozens of organizations that are working hard to reunite these families, such as the ACLU, RAICES, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Additionally, you can help by volunteering as a translator, calling your elected officials, and participating in local town halls and demonstrations.