Reporters were recently permitted to visit to a shelter in Texas housing 1,500 migrant boys who crossed the southern U.S. border illegally. The children staying in the shelter have been deemed “unaccompanied minors.”
Not all of them arrived that way.
Nearly 2,500 children have been separated from their parents and put in shelters since the Trump administration announced in May that it was adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward immigrants caught crossing into the United States without documentation. Some have argued that the relatively comfortable conditions the children are being kept in means the U.S. government’s policy is not wholly inhumane. In reality, there is no denying the immorality of the U.S. government’s actions in separating families.
The previous U.S. policy was to allow detained undocumented individuals and families to return to Mexico if caught by the border patrol — adults are now being prosecuted by the Department of Justice instead.
Their children have since been relocated to shelters run by The Office of Refugee Resettlement. Rooms in the shelters are cramped but offer the children beds, classes and games.
But while these facilities’ conditions are livable, they don’t make up for how the zero-tolerance policy is a direct blow to human rights on several levels. Besides directly violating the right to family life, which is recognized in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, enforcers of the policy are not being honest to migrant parents. Federal defenders are saying parents are not being told where their children were being taken. In some cases agents claimed the children were only being taken away shortly for a bath.
The administration has also made it difficult for parents to find their children after the initial separation — there are no known protocols for keeping track of parents and children concurrently or for how to reunite them. The two parties are not allowed to have contact while parents are detained. Immigration lawyers and advocates report trying to help parents locate their children with inadequate records.
Parents are being kept in the dark about where their children are taken after they are separated, and then are facing extreme difficulty in finding them again. Everything about this is unethical and none of it is remedied by incarcerating the children in tolerable conditions.
And the trauma this is causing the thousands of young migrants will not be fixed by offering them beds and games. Audio footage and reports of children crying and begging for their parents after separation have already gone public.
And this trauma is likely to have long-lasting effects — children separated from their parents can develop toxic stress, causing their brains to develop ineffectively. The likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder as an adult also skyrockets. More than 9,300 mental-health professionals and 142 organizations have signed a petition urging Trump to end the policy for these reasons.
Despite all this, the Trump administration is doing as little as possible to reverse its policy, with the Department of Homeland Security Secretary wrongfully blaming Congress for a supposed “loophole” forcing the administration to enforce it as law. And the United States withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council Tuesday, one day after the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described the policy as “unconscionable.”
The Trump administration’s recent actions at the border are indeed abusing the rights of hundreds of families and traumatizing thousands of children. Separating children from their parents violates basic human rights — and it isn’t made any more ethical by keeping them in shelters with clean floors and coloring books.