How Family Separation at the U.S. Border Leaves A Permanent Mark

By: Senior Director Cayenne Isaksen CBP_McAllen_6

There are currently over 2,300 children in this country suffering – suffering because our government intentionally chose to separate them from their parents, detaining them in warehouses and makeshift shelters, apparently sending others thousands of miles away to be placed into foster care.

Some broadcast media outlets have played audio of the children’s aching cries and screams. I have personally found it incredibly hard to read a full article or watch a full news segment on the issue. It’s not that “as a mother, this is too hard,” you don’t have to be a parent for this to affect you, the pain felt by these kids should affect all of us.

These 2,300 children are suffering neglect and abuse at the hands of our own government. It’s appalling. Their families sought asylum in the United States to escape their suffering and plight at home. They sacrificed what little they had to bring their children to what they believed was a better country and a better life.

Every state has a child welfare agency. Their missions vary but always include protecting children from maltreatment, abuse, and neglect. They are also there to strengthen families – this means working to keep children at home with their parents whenever it is possible. Every day, social workers make incredibly difficult, painstaking decisions about the fate of children – the choice to remove a child from their parent’s custody is rarely an easy decision. Social workers make these decisions after careful consideration; many will tell you they lose sleep over these decisions, it’s a responsibility few of us would ever want.

Our government made a decision a long time ago – as early as the 19th Century – that we must take responsibility for children in need to protect them from maltreatment. In the 1970s, the Federal government began playing a more formalized role – not only by helping fund these state agencies but assisting in establishing national policies for child welfare. When state officials and social workers step in, their intention is to protect – or even save – a child from abuse and neglect. What is happening at the border is exactly the opposite. They are contributing to the very acts that our government has historically sought to protect children from.

The United States shut down orphanages long ago because they weren’t good for children and didn’t provide a healthy environment for children to live in. I can’t imagine what research will show for children’s health following forced separation and detainment in makeshift shelters.

Many are in agreement that this unsettling experience is a stain on our country. It will also leave a permanent mark on these children and families. Whether they are infants who won’t have conscious memories or older children who won’t be able to forget, this will change them. It will also change how they view America, how they view authority figures, and maybe how they view their parents whether they are reunited with them or not.

President Trump’s recent Executive Order may end future separations of families, but the entire practice should never have happened in the first place. And the policy reversal offers no plan to reunite the 2,300 children currently suffering alone. Eventual reunification may not be easy – what support services will be in place to help these children and families heal and recover from this trauma? As a nation, we have an obligation to do all that we can to assist that healing.

Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection