A new government report catalogs in horrifying detail the emotional damage done to migrant children separated from their families as the administration pressed its strategy to deter illegal immigration. The report should be required reading for any American who still doesn’t grasp the scope of the Trump administration’s moral outrage.
President Donald Trump, who vilified both legal and undocumented Latino immigrants during his 2016 campaign, imposed a zero-tolerance policy soon after his inauguration, mandating separation of migrant children from their parents at the southern border. He justified his actions with a series of lies, wrongly asserting it was required by U.S. immigration law, and that separations were standard policy under the Obama and Bush administrations. The policy wasn’t just inflicted against law-breakers attempting to sneak over the border; families who presented themselves legally as asylum seekers met the same fate.
Between denials, the administration admitted the point of this emotional abuse of confused little kids — whose only offense was being accompanied by desperate adults who had committed, at worst, the misdemeanor of illegal entry — was an intentional strategy: Convey the message to all points southward: Stay away or suffer severe consequences.
Then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly summarized the strategy during an interview last year: “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is, they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.”
Here’s how one medical official described the effects of this “technique” to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, according to the new report: “Physical symptoms felt by separated children are manifestations of their psychological pain. You get a lot of ‘my chest hurts,’ even though everything is fine [medically]. Children describe symptoms, ‘Every heartbeat hurts,’ ‘I can’t feel my heart,’ of emotional pain.”
The inspector general’s report was compiled to assess how the department handled the influx of thousands of children while the separation policy was in effect, before the administration was forced by the courts and public outrage to reverse it. The remaining fallout includes children lost in the system and allegations that border officials are still separating too many families based on bogus justifications.
The report found separated children exhibited “feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress” and “expressed acute grief that caused them to cry inconsolably,” leading in some cases to refusal to eat. One facility staffer stated: “Every single separated kid has been terrified.”
Those words should ring loudly in the ears of those in Congress and elsewhere who still fail to hold this president accountable for an offense that historians likely will rank alongside Japanese internment.