One month after the court-ordered deadline to reunify children ripped from their parents by the Trump administration, more than 500 children remain separated from their loved ones. The administration continues to drag its feet, and the pace of reunifications has slowed to a crawl.
Recent court filings are replete with statistics on the categories of children — toddlers, tweens and teens — who remain separated from their parents; those numbers hardly convey the trauma visited upon them by the administration’s zero-compassion policies. By now it is well known, but still difficult to absorb, that the U.S. government broke apart families without the slightest notion or plan for how they would be reunited. This was bureaucratic barbarism on an epic scale. And in its aftermath, there is no accountability, and scarcely a glimmer of regret, for the suffering it inflicted on human beings.
Meanwhile, horrific trauma has been visible on these children and families – both the hundreds still separated and also those who have been reunified.
A disturbing video shared by the ACLU makes it clear: children who have been ripped from their parents have suffered an incalculable trauma and the related scars will remain well after any reunification with their parents. The video shows the reunification between a grief-stricken mother and her toddler who rejects her embrace.
As a child psychotherapist highlighted in response to the video,
This isn’t just a child that doesn’t recognize his mom, this is a trauma response following an attachment injury caused by the US government. As a psychotherapist that works with children I can’t tell you how heartbreaking this clip is to watch.
Attachment is foundational and the building block for how we relate to our world. It is a survival strategy developed in response to our caregivers to get our needs met. A secure attachment creates resilience, leads us to form healthy relationships & general well-being.
In order to survive the separation with his caregiver, this child learned during his time institutionalized that to get his needs met for comfort, food, etc. he likely had little to no impact on his rotating and inconsistent staff of “caregivers”.
This helpless child also learned that night after night no matter how hard he cried, no matter how often he called for his mama, no matter what strategy he used, his mom did not show up
In order to survive the stress of his perceived abandonment he likely gave up trying to have any impact on bringing his mother back to him and decided it was not worth it to care because it hurt too much to want her nurturance. His overloaded little brain couldn’t handle it.
So he went numb, and became tough. Because caring hurts too much. So when his mom finally returns he can’t let her in. He doesn’t trust it. His brain says, don’t accept her comfort, be tough and independent instead, it’s safer that way.
His little brain has been so saturated in toxic stress he can’t handle moms emotional display and comfort at their reunion. Mom has been praying for this day and imagining her boy sinking into her with relief and instead she experiences rejection.
He turns away from mom, already testing her seeing if she will pursue him, waiting for her to confirm his worst fears that she will be gone again. But she does, she is heartbroken and hurt bu[t] she chases him and keeps trying.
And a disturbing first person account of time spent volunteering at the Dilly – “I Spent 5 Days At A Family Detention Center. I’m Still Haunted By What I Saw” – reveals the baseline cruelty of this policy, torturing traumatized family, all for political gain.
I traveled with a group of amazing women gathered by Carolina, a powerhouse immigration lawyer and artist from Brooklyn. My fellow volunteers were mostly Latinas or women whose histories connected them deeply to this work. Through this experience, we became a tight-knit community, gathering each night to process our experiences and try to steel ourselves for the next day. Working 12-hour shifts alongside us were two nuns in their late 70s, and it was one of them who best summed up the experience as we entered the facility one morning. “What is happening here,” she said, “makes me question the existence of God.”
I am still in awe of the resilience I witnessed. Many of the women I met had gone for more than two weeks without even knowing where their children were. Most had been raped, tormented, threatened or beaten (and in many cases, all of the above) in their countries (predominantly Honduras and Guatemala). They came here seeking refuge from unspeakable horrors, following the internationally recognized process for seeking asylum. For their “crime,” they were incarcerated with hundreds of other women and children in la hielera (“the freezer,” cold concrete cells with no privacy where families sleep on the floor with nothing more than sheets of Mylar to cover them) or la perrera (“the dog kennel,” where people live in chain link cages). Their children were ripped from their arms, they were taunted, kicked, sprayed with water, fed frozen food and denied medical care. Yet the women I encountered were the lucky ones, because they had survived their first test of will in this country.
Woman after woman described the same scene: During their separation from their children ― before they learned of their whereabouts or even whether they were safe ― the women were herded into a room where Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials handed them papers. “Sign this,” they were told, “and you can see your children again.” The papers were legal documents with which the women would be renouncing their claims to asylum and agreeing to self-deport. Those who signed were deported immediately, often without their children. Those who refused to sign were given sham credible-fear interviews (the first step in the asylum process), for which they were not prepared or even informed of asylum criteria.
…The accounts of the horrors that women were fleeing are almost too graphic to repeat. Of the many women I spoke to, only one did not report having been raped. The sexual assaults the women described often involved multiple perpetrators, the use of objects for penetration and repeated threats, taunting and harassment after the rape. A Mormon woman I worked with could barely choke out the word “rape,” much less tell anyone in her family or community what had happened. Her sweet, quiet daughter knew nothing of the attack or the men who stalked the woman on her way to the store, promising to return. None of the women I spoke with had any faith that the gang-ridden police would or could provide protection, and police reports were met with shaming and threats. Overwhelmingly, the women traveled with their daughters, despite the increased danger for girls on the trip, because the women know what awaits their little girls if they stay behind. Sometimes the rapes and abuse were at the hands of their husbands or partners and to return home would mean certain death. But under the new directives issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, domestic violence is no longer a qualifying criterion for asylum.