Family separations: a lingering problem

William Wehrs

wiwehrs@ursinus.edu

The United States has a tendency to ignore the unsavory aspects of its history. The genocide against Native Americans and the Japanese Internment camps are rarely focused on in our history books. Now, we are seeing yet another instance of collective amnesia, as the majority of media outlets seems to have moved on from Trump’s immigration policies.

This is highly problematic, as things have not exactly improved. Trump did issue an executive order that allegedly stopped the separation of children from their parents, but a close reading reveals the separations are still allowed to continue. Trump’s executive order says families will not be separated when appropriate with available resources. This obviously allows for separation to still happen if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials want it to.

Additionally, parents’ efforts to pick up their children have frequently been thwarted by ICE. The children can only be picked up by family members, and since many of their family members are themselves undocumented, this leads to family members running the risk of being detained. Thus, according to Erin Drukin of “The Guardian,” more than 40 people have been arrested after attempting to pick up children.

As a result, children have been forced to stay in migrant camps where they face awful living conditions. According to the “Los Angeles Times,” a child named Brandon said he had to use his blanket all the time due to how cold it was. People detained often refer to the center as “hielera,” which is icebox in Spanish. That same “Los Angeles Times” article mentioned another woman, Lidia. She was able to be able to stay with her four-year-old son, but lamented the lack of food, as all they received was frozen sandwiches: “My son was crying from hunger.”

ICE has also begun secretly sending children to an isolated camp in Texas. Catlin Dickerson of “The New York Times” reports that children have begun to be taken away from private foster homes in Kansas where they at least received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives. Now, they are in a camp where no schooling is offered and visits from legal representatives is scarce.

Even when children are reunited with their parents, the trauma does not stop. Jeremy Raft of “The Atlantic” provided a chilling profile of what life was like for a child who is now reunited with his mother. The six-year-old child, Jenri, cannot handle being told not to do something, as when told not to climb on the TV, he burst in tears: “He screamed ‘no touch!’ again and again. Then, he threw himself face down on the bed and yelled at Anita through tears. ‘Just take me back to jail,’ he cried. ‘You’re not my mom anymore.’” Child Psychologist Julie Linton explains that separation of a child from her or his parent “can disrupt the architecture of a child’s brain,” and  it can lead to the internalization of a “specific phrase or comment that triggers a traumatic event.” In this case, the phrase is obviously “no touching” which was what the guards would yell at him, as at the camp he was not allowed to touch other children. Jenri also refuses to share his toys with other children and is reluctant to go to school as he is worried that means he is being separated from his parents again. The family had come to the United States because of the threat of gang violence and they had qualified for asylum until ICE abruptly reneged on this. Clearly, the United States is still having problems with how it’s handling immigration, and we must not lose sight of that. Immigration is in dire need of true reform.