Op-Ed: Families Belong Together, One Year Later

It has been one year since thousands of us around the country raised our voices and rallied against family separation. It was through our public outcry and a court order that nearly 3,000 children were reunited with their parents. It has been one year and yet the horrors continue.

We learned earlier this year through an inspector general report that thousands more children had been separated from their parents in the year before the administration announced their zero tolerance separation policy. While the government scrambled to reunite the children separated last spring,  they hid the fact that there were thousands more separated children that no one knew about. These children have never been reunited. The children were separated from their parents, relabeled as ‘unaccompanied’ and sent to the Office of Refugee Resettlement who had no way of knowing which children had come with parents and which had truly arrived unaccompanied. This administration essentially kidnapped children from parents who were seeking to bring them to safety and these children were never returned. This is a crime against humanity.

This country continues to hold over 13,000 children in detention facilities around the country. Many of these children already suffer from the emotional scars of the physical and sexual abuse which they endured in their home countries. Instead of being permitted to stay with relatives or sponsors in loving communities, they are held in detention facilities for months on end, far exceeding the 20-day limit required by the Flores Agreement that has been in place for the past two decades to ensure the human rights of children in detention. Many of these facilities like Homestead in Florida are for -profit facilities with no child welfare oversight. The children are allowed no physical contact and even siblings are not permitted to hug each other. They wake at the crack of dawn, walk in single files in facilities surrounded by high fences that they are not allowed to leave. The administration recently ordered that English lessons and soccer would no longer be permitted and their access to legal aid was  limited. These already traumatized children feel hopeless, abandoned and depressed.  By holding them in detention for prolonged periods and denying them access to legal counsel, we are violating the human rights of these children.

Seven children have died while in federal custody since last year due to inadequate access to trained pediatricians. The administration has repeatedly refused input from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help with medical oversight of the care children receive when in detention. Children dying in a country fully capable of properly addressing the healthcare needs of children is unacceptable.

When they first arrive in our country legally seeking asylum, children are kept in cold overcrowded  ‘ice boxes’ for days on end  where the lights are kept on day and night, where they are fed uncooked frozen food and the water tastes like bleach; where they sleep on cement floors surrounded by chain link fences in what are essentially human dog kennels. These facilities were never meant to house children who are left in these inhumane conditions far beyond the 72 hour legal limit. These conditions are morally reprehensible for any human being, let alone children.

We have read other reports of vital prescription medications being confiscated upon entry to the country and not replaced. We have read that some pregnant women who have given birth after entering the U.S. have had their babies taken away from them. We have learned that transgender individuals and immigrants with mental disabilities are sometimes placed in solitary confinement for prolonged periods ‘for their own safety.’

These are all atrocities. These are all human rights violations that are ,antithetical to our American values and to who we claim to be as a nation. Although it is easy to feel helpless and powerful against a government machine that seems to do whatever it wants, however repugnant, we must not remain silent. Future generations will judge how we responded at this dark moment in our nation’s history. They must know that we raised our voices in opposition to this administration’s cruel policies. We must continue to raise public awareness and we must demand that immigrants seeking safety and asylum in our country be treated with dignity and compassion.

Dr . Eve Krief,
NY Chapter 2 American Academy of Pediatrics
Core Team Immigrant Justice Now

Families Belong Together: #OneYearLater rally, Saturday June 29th, 12:30-2pm, Jericho Turnpike and Route 110 in Huntington Station

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