Three years later, and at least 545 children are still separated from parents 

By Juan Carlos Gomez

The harm of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy—separating children from their parents at the border—continues three years after the enactment of the pilot program in 2017. This deeply cruel and misguided strategy to scare immigrants, no matter the damage to children and their families, has resulted in at least 545 children still being separated from their parents. The majority of these children’s parents have been deported. Due to the deliberate and reckless strategy of poor data collection by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the actual number is likely far higher. Additionally, this number doesn’t capture the countless children who were separated from family members other than parents at the border. DHS has no methods for reunifying these children with their extended families. 

There may be no greater harm to a child than separation from a parent. Family separations have negative impacts on the wellbeing and development of children. The trauma induced by apprehension and separation from a family member is strong and can be long-lasting, even for children who spend a relatively short period of time in detention or separated from a family member. 

The decision to separate families is disgraceful but consistent with the actions of this administration, which seems fixated on maximizing harm to immigrants in any way possible. As family separations continue both on the border and in the interior, millions of children in immigrant families are forced to live with the consequential fear of being separated from a loved one. 

CLASP has documented the inhumane practices and devastating consequences of large-scale worksite raids, as well as the pervasive fear of family separation experienced by so many immigrant children and families.  

Ongoing, harsh immigration policies are even more reprehensible and dangerous in the context of the current pandemic. In addition to business as usual for immigration enforcement officials terrorizing immigrants seeking asylum, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ramped up immigration enforcement, tearing apart families in the interior of the United States, at a time when immigrants have been on the frontlines providing for our communities. Worse still, ICE is doing this when it is critical to our collective wellbeing that all families feel safe seeking health care. 

It is shameful that the federal government has ripped apart the lives of immigrant families and that officials have dragged their feet to rectify the problem. The inhumane practice of separating immigrant families—whether at the border or in the interior of the country—must end, and families that have been separated need to be reunified. Additionally, policymakers must exercise far greater oversight of DHS to safeguard immigrants against needless and cruel policies. The country must do everything it can to address the severe and long-lasting harm the Trump Administration’s policies have caused and ensure the protection of all children, including those seeking refuge and asylum with their families.