In the 1970s and 1980s, right wing dictatorships throughout South America “disappeared” tens of thousands of political opponents. Under the auspices of the US-led Operation Condor, the dictatorships of Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay coordinated their efforts to eliminate left-wing opposition. Political opponents were arrested and tortured and many were killed. Combined Chile and Argentina on their own are estimated to have killed over 100,000 dissidents. As the Argentinian dictator declared, “They are neither dead nor alive, they are disappeared”. The families, especially the mothers, of those who were “disappeared” have spent the last four decades demanding an accounting of what their own governments had done to their children.
Yesterday, we learned that the Trump administration had been warned about the psychological damage that separating young children from their parents would inflict before implementing the Trump zero-tolerance policy. And yet the administration, with that full knowledge, went ahead with the policy anyway. In addition, the administration went ahead when it knew full well that there was no plan for reuniting these separated children with their parents. In fact, as one HHS official noted, the fact that the separation policy harmed children was exactly the point, as it theoretically would prevent other families from seeking asylum here in the US.
The Trump administration has missed both court-ordered deadlines for reuniting these children with their families and there are still over 1,000 children who are still separated. But for those approximately 1,800 children who have been reunited, the damage is already clear. As the NY Times documents, “many of the children released to their parents are exhibiting signs of anxiety, introversion, regression and other mental health issues”. Some of these children burst into tears when they simply see a policeman or other uniformed official. Other have regressed to clinging to their mothers and asking to be breast-fed.
The separation policy has highlighted other extreme problems within ICE. Many of the detention and foster care facilities are cesspools of abuse and violence. In Arizona, a six year old girl was sexually abused by another individual at a detention facility run by Southwest Key. The response of officials there was to get the child to sign a legal document requiring her to stay away from her abuser. The idea that a six year old could understand the ramifications of a legal document of this kind is laughable on its face. And the absurdity was further compounded by the fact that the poor girl was subsequently sexually and physically abused by the same individual again. The child did not even recognize her mother when the family was finally reunified and does not allow anyone to touch her.
At a Texas facility, staff members were handling migrant children by giving them psychotropic drugs on a daily basis, signing off on the administration of those drugs in lieu of the parent or assigned guardian. Children have testified they were given pills “every morning and every night”, despite the facility claiming they were only administered on an emergency basis. There is evidence that some children were being forcibly administered drugs against their will. The facility, Shiloh Residential Treatment Center, has had a long history of allegations of child abuse, violence, and even deaths and the doctor who signed off on the prescriptions of the drugs given to these migrant children has worked without a proper license for over a decade.
Many of these children will be scarred for life. Unlike, those who were disappeared by right-wing juntas forty years ago, these children will still be alive. But the children their parents knew before separation have disappeared, likely gone forever. And it was all intentional, using children as pawns in immigration policy. It is child abuse. It is a crime against humanity. And, despite what we have been led to believe, family separations are still taking place, just not under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.