By Apsara Senaratne
According to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in 2013, 72,410 deportees had one or more children still living in the United States when they were deported. In other words, hundreds of thousands of children were cruelly separated from their parents in the process of deportation during that year.
This is not the first example of the systematic separation of families by the American government, and it certainly has not been the last.
Today, ever-increasing numbers of immigrants are being separated from their families and held in separate deportation centers. Families are thrust into an unjust and deeply flawed system in which they continue to be unnecessarily and viciously separated, placed into detention centers thousands of miles away from their families, all due to the government’s belief that it may dissuade others from entering the country illegally. Even worse, the Trump administration is now considering the formalization and mass implementation of this cruel practice, according to the New York Times.
Families already face terrible conditions upon apprehension at the border; they are held in processing centers, dark warehouses crammed with men, women, and children who were stopped in their attempts to reach better lives, fluorescent lighting illuminating wire fences that separate hundreds of such families. Parents are given two choices: to either be deported with their children, or to be separated from their children and placed in detention centers until they are forcibly deported.
One such parent is Jose Fuentes, a man who fled El Salvador with his one-year-old son, Mateo. Upon presenting himself to immigration officers at the border and seeking asylum, he was brutally separated from his son and held in a detention facility in San Diego, 1000 miles away from the Laredo, Texas children’s facility in which his son was being held.
Not only is this practice ruthless and unjust, but the conditions of these centers have also been identified as damaging to children’s mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that “the U.S. government protect vulnerable children who are fleeing violence and poverty from being traumatized,” and recommends that they “never be placed in detention centers.”
Additionally, separation from parents or caretakers can result in extensive damage upon children’s mental health, often resulting in conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, and paranoia, according to the Center on Immigration and Child Welfare.
Family separation ultimately defies the laws that constitute our country, depriving individuals of their basic human rights and their right to due process under the U.S. government. Permitting U.S. citizens to be with their relatives is central to our immigration laws.
Denying individuals this right is not only ineffective in ensuring the safety of the American people, but also unacceptable on moral grounds. The government cannot blatantly disregard asylum laws and basic human rights in its attempts to solve the issue of undocumented immigration.
It must instead look towards more humane, righteous forms of treatment towards the undocumented in order to stay true to its ideals and guarantee that all people, regardless of background, are treated justly.