I was 3 years old when my dad brought our family to America. I really don’t have many memories from back then — I had no idea whether my brother, my mom, and I were arriving with my father for work, if we had visas, or if we swam here from Pakistan illegally; I was just a toddler, too young to dress myself, let alone recognize the complexities of my immigration process. My mom tells me I kept asking to "meet Superman," running up to every white guy I saw on the street thinking I’d met my hero. The idea that kids as young as I was — and even babies — are separated from their families and put into guarded facilities with nothing but thermal blankets and a green mat is pretty alarming, as it should be for anyone fortunate enough to live in this country. Although President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week that he says will stop separation families, there are still reasons to care about families at the border.
The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, established by Jeff Sessions, prosecutes anyone crossing over illegally, and therefore justified the action of separating children from their parents. As the media storm against the administration’s border policy has grown, so has the public outrage. Pictures of children crying in apparent cages have gone viral, prompting backlash from representatives, celebrities, and ordinary citizens alike.
The possible mental state of these children has also come to light. More than 250,000 doctors represented by The American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements along with nearly 7,700 mental health professionals and 142 organizations urging President Donald Trump to end the policy. Many of these individuals cite the catastrophic trauma that these conditions can cause to the mind of a child.
Protests boiled over to disrupt Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s dinner Tuesday night, June 19, organized by activists in Washington. Ironically, she was eating at a Mexican restaurant after refusing to apologize for the administration’s actions.
The protest seemed to have hit a nerve, as the next morning, June 20, Nielsen was seen standing next to President Trump while he signed an executive order to halt the separation of children at the border. However, while many are celebrating after applying immense pressure, the fight for families caught crossing over is hardly over.
First, the order itself did nothing to reunite already separated children with family members. After days of public pressure about that, the DHS released a statement on June 23 explaining that they do have a process in place to reunite children with their families, adding that 522 children had been reunited so far. However, critics like Dara Lind at Vox argued the plan does not appear to be sufficient to reunite all families and that the plan in large part relies on the adults being deported. (The DHS fact sheet says they have a process "to ensure that those adults who are subject to removal are reunited with their children for the purposes of removal," and a DHS spokesperson confirms to Elite Daily that adults who have already been ordered to be removed from the country are being asked if they want their children to leave with them.)
Meanwhile, as of June 20, per the DHS fact sheet, 2,053 children who were split from their parents are still in government facilities, and no amount of juice boxes and cartoons are enough to replace the need for parental love and support. Some of these children are reportedly being sent to foster homes as far away as New York, Michigan, or South Carolina.
Second, the order is attempting to keep families together, but also makes note to detain them indefinitely. Under a court settlement in Flores v. Reno, children who arrive with family are required to be released within three weeks of detention, but Trump’s order initiated a process to challenge that ruling, setting up a likely lengthy battle with the court system. The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jenny Lisette Flores by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1985. Flores was just 15 years old when she fled from El Salvador to find an aunt who was living in the United States. She was trying to escape the brutal civil war in her home country, but she was detained by federal authorities at the U.S. border.
Flores and other minors in custody were made to share beds and bathrooms with strange men and women and were strip-searched regularly. Although her aunt was available to take her into custody, authorities refused to release her to anyone other than a parent. After the Flores settlement, children are required to be released to any responsible adult within 20 days. Also, the agreement established the very important aspect of providing kids with some basic necessities, like food and water, access to medical treatment, running water, and it mandates they be separated from adults to whom they have no relation. The current administration’s attempt to overturn this ruling is extremely alarming.
Third, as the doctors pointed out in their statement to President Trump, separating children from their parents will likely have lasting effects. Research from the National Institutes of Health on Native Americans pressured to separate from their families in the 1950s revealed a link to substance abuse and depression which lasted into the next generation. In Australia, data shows that when children from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were forcefully removed from their families in the late 1800s and 1960s, the damage lasted well into adulthood. In fact, the children were 60 percent more likely to have alcohol addiction, according to Australian Institute of Family Studies research, and twice as likely to be charged with a crime as adults.
The order presents other issues, but the point is that this cannot be the end of the line. America has had its obvious problems with immigration, but it’s finally beginning to attract the eyes of its inhabitants. The images and sounds of terrified and crying children are not only raising alarms within the country, but people worldwide are scrutinizing the Trump administration's behavior. America should be the example for every country worldwide; it should set the standard for how people are treated, and how a true democracy should act. The nation was built on the backs of immigrants, but our current policies and actions by the White House do not reflect that legacy.
I am extremely proud of every person that expressed outrage at what they saw. Whether it was a celebrity posting to their followers or an average citizen organizing rallies and protest, it all counts and adds up to pressure for our leadership. That tenacity forced Trump to sign this executive order, but I hope it does not mask the work that still needs to be completed. The laws have a long way to go before meaningful change can be established, but it’s beyond inspiring to see so many Americans focused on tackling one of the biggest obstacles our country is facing.