Separated families: An administrative and moral disaster
Thousands of separated families, children alone in court, sexual abuse, and deported parents are the consequences of the "zero tolerance" policy of the Trump Administration. Repairing the damage seems simply impossible.
After Attorney General Jeff Sessions instituted the "zero tolerance policy" against undocumented immigration in the country, more than 3,000 under-age children were separated from their parents upon entering the country and went into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services to be processed as "unaccompanied minors.”
Crowded in makeshift detention centers, in cage-like spaces, without human contact and unable to communicate in English, these children have become the image of the inhumanity of the Trump administration.
Organizations at the national and international levels have spoken out about the alleged human rights violations, and district judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunify families before July 26.
Instead of reuniting families, the government urged the American Civil Liberties Union to take charge of locating the deported parents to reunite them with their children, as if the consequences of their actions were someone else's responsibility.
Last Friday Judge Sabraw declared that "the responsibility is 100% of the government," according to the New York Times.
"The judge expressed disappointment that the government had not devised a plan and said he wanted one or two people to oversee the reunification of deported parents with their children," the paper continues. "There has to be someone to hold accountable and to supervise the entire process," the judge said, quoted by the Times.
Of the 2,500 separate children who were reportedly detained at first, the government has released 1,979, according to court documents made public last week. Six hundred children remain in government custody, including 410 whose parents were deported. Three hundred are from Guatemala and 100 are from Honduras. The rest come from El Salvador, Brazil, and Romania explain the Times.
The reunification work has been carried out mainly by lawyers from organizations for immigrant rights and by groups organized outside the federal government, which remains static and without much concern for the future of families.
Priya Konings, a lawyer with the KIND organization (Kids in Need of Defense) in New York, told National Public Radio that "the process of representing immigrant children has been incredibly challenging," having to "face almost an insurmountable amount of challenges."
Konings said that many of the children have been released without their lawyers being notified, and locating them has been the most important challenge in their work.
"We have signed retainers with them. We are actively representing them, but we don’t actually know their whereabouts," Konings explained. "Furthermore, as part of our representation, we need to advise and consult our clients. And it’s almost impossible to advise a child without being provided any information from the government about what their plan is for these children."
The most important questions for lawyers are about whether the government will take over the reunification, deport them or hand them to a legal guardian in the country.
"We have no idea," Konings added. "Oftentimes, we aren’t given any information."
Meanwhile, children have been victims of sexual assault, as well as physical and psychological abuse, and the separation from their parents has left a definitive mark on their lives.
The government continues to give the impression that the treatment of immigrants in the United States today is not a priority, and that the initial mission of "zero tolerance" is still to make it clear that anyone who wants to emigrate to the country must be willing to be treated as an "animal.”