The Trump Administration has deeply offended the moral sensibilities of woman and mothers across the nation—and their border policies pose a threat not just to women’s lives, but to our democracy.
Pregnant immigrant women are being detained and denied the health care they need. Our country is detaining women who are fleeing brutal domestic violence at the courthouse door. Asylum-seeking parents are being torn apart from their children—and children are being purposefully separated from moms—by our government.
The immoral and deeply troubling practice of separating families at the border accelerated in early April when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new goal to arrest nearly all migrants attempting to enter the United States, even those seeking legal shelter from violence and persecution—people who have been protected from punitive treatment by previous administrations of both parties.
As a result of this practice, in just two weeks in May, an estimated more than 3,000 children—some as young as 11 months, two years or four years old—have been taken away from their parents without knowing if they will ever see them again.
Imagine the moment when a child is taken away from their parent: the child crying, watching in shock and horror, not knowing if they’ll ever see their parents again.
The pain of being separated from a child is something mothers understand instantly. This is a pain that no one should ever have to experience.
José, five years old, cries himself to sleep each night at a foster home in Michigan. After an arduous journey through Mexico from El Salvador, José was separated from his dad at the border in El Paso and sent to another state to live with strangers. The New York Times published his heartbreaking stick-figure drawings of his family, whom he hasn’t seen in weeks. His story is painful, but not unusual, as the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress pursue this immoral practice.
Children like José suffer real harm from these experiences. Citing psychological research, the American Psychological Association recently warned that this practice “threatens the mental and physical health of both the children and their caregivers.” They cited outcomes including “psychological distress, academic difficulties and disruptions in their development.” Even in previous years, when detention of migrants was rarer, psychological studies observed serious “social and cognitive difficulties” in their children due to the separation.
The painful effects of this practice will echo through generations, harming the futures of thousands of children.
There are more practical considerations, too. Warehousing, feeding and clothing immigrant children at separate facilities will cost taxpayers millions of dollars more a year. It’s completely unnecessary, especially when their parents are willing and able to care for them. Instead of wasting money on more detention centers, if we invested the 223 billion dollars requested by the Trump administration for immigration enforcement, we could pay for childcare for every preschooler in America, or other vital services for American communities.
Make no mistake: Our nation’s overall approach to immigration is incoherent, ineffective and destructive. Almost everyone agrees it needs a complete overhaul. But putting these children through unspeakable trauma solves nothing. It won’t even accomplish the Administration’s own policy goal. It is costly and it irreparably harms children.
Perhaps even worse, this policy damages our values as a nation, too. Intentionally separating children from their families dishonors the legacy of so many generations of immigrants who came to America fleeing war, persecution and famine and who have fought dearly since the founding of our nation to secure our freedoms and human rights.
We must fight back. We must be better than this. We can fix our immigration system without inflicting harm on children. We must keep families together. This shameful practice must immediately stop.