Op-Ed: Hold Accountable Those Who Separated Families

In June of 2018, thousands of Americans raised their voices to demand an end to the administration’s family separation policy.  Members from both sides of the aisle and people from across the country condemned the policy as morally repugnant. Under the pressure of that public outcry and through a court ruling, the government was ordered to end family separation and to reunify the 2,814  children it had ripped from their parents’ arms. Sadly, the story of this dark stain on our country does not end there. 

Despite the court’s ruling,  1,090 children have since been indiscriminately taken away from parents at the southern border because at some point in the past these parents had committed an offense as minor as an unpaid traffic ticket.
 

Children also continue to be separated from trusted adult siblings and relatives they arrive with because these guardians are not their parents, leaving the children alone, afraid and traumatized. Sadly, the story of this administration’s treatment of immigrant children gets far worse.

While activists and ordinary Americans spent weeks and months demanding that every last child we knew of in the summer of 2018 be reunited with their family, the government was hiding a dirty little secret. While they scrambled to reunify the children we knew about, they knowingly hid the fact that they had been separating children for far longer than they let on and that at least 1,556 more children had been torn from their parents‘ arms during the year prior to the announcement of their “zero tolerance” policy . They hid the fact that these children even existed.

While the government frantically worked to quell the public outrage about the children we knew about, they knowingly left these other children lost from their parents, understanding  full well that with the passage of time and with many of the parents  already deported, many of these children would be lost from their families forever. 

It was not until seven months later that a report from the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services revealed the existence of those other children. Exact numbers were impossible to determine as Customs and Border Protection had separated the children and ultimately dropped them off at the  the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) with no records, designating them as unaccompanied even though they most certainly had come into the country with loving parents desperate to bring them to safety within our borders . When the Inspector General revealed that the administration had been separating children for much longer than anybody was aware of, the court ordered that these children be reunited as well. But for many,  it was too late .

ORR then came up with an algorithm to try and guess  which of the thousands of children they had processed had actually come into the country with their parents. Because there were no records kept, this could only be a best guess.

 
The government said it would take at least two years to locate these children and their parents. The court gave them six months. The deadline was last month but there were no stories of reunifications. We were given only a number: 1,556 children. 1,556 children lost  to their families. Over 300 of them were five years old or younger.  Sixty were four years old, 76 were three years old, 40 were two years old, 26 were one-year-olds and five of them were under one year of age. 
 
 The ACLU is going door to door in countries  in the northern triangle where their parents may have been deported. We don’t know how many of these children were too young to even know their own names when they last saw their parents. 
We do know that every last one of these 1,556 children has been traumatized, that many will likely never be reunited with their parents and that they will carry that void and that suffering with them for their entire lives . We do know that many of the 1,090  children torn from their parents’ arms despite  a court order against the policy, were unjustifiably separated from good and loving parents. These children have been traumatized and ongoing separations continue to take place. And we do know that the 2,814 children that were reunited with their parents continue to relive the trauma our government heartlessly inflicted upon them. 
 
All told, the United States government- OUR government, has been responsible for the separation and traumatization of over 5,400 children since June of 2017. Think of that number for a moment. Try and picture their faces; see the terror  in their eyes; imagine the sadness and sense of abandonment they must feel, that they will carry with them always. We did that. Our country did that. Is this how we make America great again?
 
So as we now ponder impeachment and Congress sets out to prove that the President betrayed our country’s values and put our national security at risk, I would  argue that the President has already betrayed our country’s values to a much greater degree. This administration twisted our laws in a vulgar and heinous manner to justify committing crimes against humanity. For that they are already guilty, regardless of the outcome of these impeachment hearings . This administration will be remembered as the purveyors of a dark time in American history when this country failed to learn the lessons of the past and allowed itself to be penetrated by a xenophobic nationalism that betrayed our values and our humanity. They will be remembered as an administration that dehumanized immigrants in their own minds to such a degree that they convinced themselves that the bonds between immigrant children and their parents did not matter.
 
We must not forget what they did. We must not let their crimes go unanswered. They must be held accountable.

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