The Trump Administration has been engaging in the practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Texas courts are filling up with immigrant parents who have had their children ripped from their arms. Neither the children nor the parents are told where the other is or when they will be reunited if ever. The Administration favors this approach as a “tough deterrent” to illegal immigration. That is the view in an adult-centric universe, which discounts children’s suffering and treats children as nothing other than a means to the ends of adults.
There was a time when children were property, and their fathers had the right to treat them as labor they owned. That was before child labor laws, child abuse prohibition, and the rise of women’s rights. That was the early 20th century at the latest. This Administration’s view borrows from the long-rejected notion that men in power have the right to do whatever they choose to children, because they can. This view should have no purchase in this era.
In a world where children have graduated from property to persons, ripping children from their parents’ arms at the border is a policy of barbarians arbitrarily and recklessly using children as pawns. The United Nations has condemned the practice and the ACLU is suing to stop it, as both should. A spotlight also needs to shine on the negative consequences of this misguided policy.
This Administration Is Choosing Trauma Over Hope
As children’s status has emerged from the shadow of self-dealing adults, the science of child health has taken giant leaps. One area that is being studied intensely is the effect of trauma on children. This science tells us that taking these children from their parents inflicts extreme trauma that will likely have negative repercussions on these children for the rest of their lives. By separating children from their parents in an unknown land, the federal government is choosing to inflict PTSD and a host of future psychological and medical problems on thousands of children. They may have arrived at our borders as legitimate seekers of asylum, in other words, already traumatized at home, but once they get here, this federal government is choosing to magnify the trauma. Or they may have landed here because their parents simply seek a better life for their families. In either scenario, the United States is choosing to thwart their thriving and to sacrifice their health and well-being. This Administration is choosing trauma instead of hope. For those children who are rightfully and eventually permitted to enter the country, we will all pay the cost of this sui generis traumatization.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the most prestigious organization dedicated to the issue, explains a child’s trauma event as follows:
A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity. Witnessing a traumatic event that threatens life or physical security of a loved one can also be traumatic. This is particularly important for young children as their sense of safety depends on the perceived safety of their attachment figures.
Traumatic experiences can initiate strong emotions and physical reactions that can persist long after the event. Children may feel terror, helplessness, or fear, as well as physiological reactions such as heart pounding, vomiting, or loss of bowel or bladder control. Children who experience an inability to protect themselves or who lacked protection from others to avoid the consequences of the traumatic experience may also feel overwhelmed by the intensity of physical and emotional responses.
Note the sentence in italics, which says that young children feel safe based on their view of the safety of their loved ones. Ripping them from their parents at the border is an act of compound trauma. They are traumatized by being isolated and thrown in with children they do not know in this alien country, but even more so when they witness their parents’ lack of safety.
The wages of trauma are steep. It does not stop at PTSD or psychological distress and depression. It permeates the human body to contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. It even alters the brain. Is the Trump administration offering lifetime medical care to reverse the effects of its reckless undermining of the welfare of these children? Of course not. Instead, its goal is to throw them back to the countries from where they came, where they will arrive more damaged than when they departed. They are being traumatized with the end game of returning them to health systems that will not be able to meet their needs. The infliction of additional trauma is cruel and an additional cost to the world.
This policy of taking children from their parents is based on thoughtless tropes from the past in which children were owned property to be utilized by the men who controlled them. That was when they were simply collateral to the adults in their sphere. Children are valuable in themselves and do not deserve the treatment the Trump administration is dishing out. Nor does the United States or the world need the additional costs being created by this careless policy. It must stop. Reunite children with their parents and stop pulling them apart in the first place.