This election season has seen an outburst of hate-filled demagogy the likes of which we have never witnessed in this country in our lifetime. The avalanche of hate against immigrant families seeking asylum in this country that has been going on for several years was revved up in recent weeks by one side to stir up those they regarded as their base in the 2018 election.
Using Children as Weapons
We who have devoted our lives to working with young people – and the past 30 years to the care and development of young children – are particularly appalled at the way in which young children were used as weapons in this onslaught. They have been taken from the arms of their parents and separated for months. Some are still separated. A caravan of families wending its way northward on foot some 1,000 miles away were scapegoated with the false charge that they were bringing all sorts of diseases into the country – smallpox, pertussis, measles, ebola, leprosy, and whatever else can be dreamed up -without a shred of evidence for the claim. Most of the children come from Honduras where the US Center for Disease Control reports, according to NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, 97 percent of the children have been vaccinated.
No issue in this saga has touched the hearts of Americans more than the stories and photos of children separated from their parents at the southern border.
They’ve Committed No Crime
These people have committed no crime. Under U,S. law, anyone from another country can seek asylum — and therefore entry into the U.S. — by claiming to have fled their countries out of fear of persecution over their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Their claim is investigated and a decision is usually rendered within 45 days. In past years, several million people have entered the U.S. in this way – all it takes is a visit to Miami, Florida, a city largely inhabited by immigrants from Cuba or their children, to check this out.
We have written about it before but more recent stories have appeared in the press that keep the issue consistently before us. One such story involved a two-year-old girl named Fernanda, just one of the thousands of children, age two through 17, whose cases come before immigration courts across the United States. Fernanda was so small she had to be lifted onto the chair in court. Her feet, too short to dangle, stuck out from the chair. She sat silently in the chair in immigration court, her frightened dark eyes opened wide, unable to answer any of the questions that was asked of her in English or Spanish – “How old are you? Do you speak Spanish? What’s your name?”
Many of these children are unaccompanied minors, others are children separated from their parents by our government’s policy this past summer who for one reason or another, had not been reunited with them.
Many Still Remain Separated
The outcry against this policy was so great in our country that President Trump, after insisting that it was up to Congress not him to change the policy, eventually relented and ordered the policy ended. But as of this writing, hundreds of children still remain separated from their parents, many of whom have been deported to their home countries without them. Others remain separated because faulty record keeping has made it very difficult to find parents. In the meantime, some 13,000 unaccompanied minors have come into the country as new government policies make it more difficult for families to sponsor them in foster care and tent cities are set up in the Texas desert to house them. They receive no schooling and their access to legal services is limited.
A few months ago, we posted an article on this website entitled The Inhuman Policy of Separating Children from Parents. It was only one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of comments published in various media outlets about the horrific policy in the name of our country that was taking place on our southern border, the policy of taking children away from parents who were attempting to seek political asylum in our country.
A follow-up story in the NY Times of Oct. 26 described the scene in which the two-year-old child, Fenanda, was finally reunited with her parents in Honduras. She did not smile or seem to recognize them, even as her mother hugged her and cried, “Mi amor” (my love). The child continued to be traumatized by her experience. How long the effects of her experience would last and what permanent effects it would have on the little girl no one at this point can tell.
New Voices Added to Protest
In our post a few months ago, we quoted some sources on the effects this policy will likely have upon the lives of the children. Since then, some of the leading authorities in the field of child care have added their voices. The bi-monthly journal of Zero to Three, a national non-profit organization of professionals devoted to the healthy development of children and families, devoted its entire September 2018 issue to the trauma of family separation and parental loss in early childhood with several articles specifically concerned with the separation of young children from their parents seeking asylum on our southern border.
Its lead article by four prominent authorities in the field of child mental and physical development deals with the implications of forcible separation.
“Forcible separation of young children in migrant families,” it states directly, “represent the purposeful and systematic utilization of fear and pain by those in power to control and subjugate a target population.” It cites a June 20, 2018 statement by the Society for Research in Child Development that evidence shows that “young children separated from their family can present short- and long-term consequences in their overall functioning due to the impact of dealing with stressful or traumatic events without their primary source of comfort and security, and that being separated from their family is one of the principal sources of toxic stress and possibly posttraumatic stress disorder” in these children.
This trauma comes on top of the trauma of migration in which a family is forced to tear up its roots and take young children away from a familiar environment. Another article in the journal deals with this additional issue in migrant families. “Prolonged separation from a primary attachment figure,” the authors write, “may be considered a traumatic event for young children because their perceived safety is organized around the attachment relationship and its absence may be experienced as a significant loss. As a result traumatic stress responses may emerge following separation.”
An earlier report by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University talks about the qualities that family relationships play in child development – intellectual, social, emotional, physical, and behavioral – whose “quality and stability in the early years lay the foundation that supports wide range of later outcomes.” and would be lost by prolonged separation.
This issue of the Journal is available free to all Zero to Three members. Non-members may inquire about the Journal articles by going to zerotothree.org.