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November 29, 2018

Trump Administration Policies are Devastatingly Cruel to Children

President Trump’s immigration policies are far-reaching, sometimes difficult to understand, and rooted in hate. But one thing seems to unite them all: a blatant, absolute disregard for the rights, safety, and well-being of children. The president’s “zero-tolerance” policy this summer resulted in the forced separation of thousands of asylum-seeking children from their families—some for months on end, and some potentially permanently. The American people saw the consequences of this policy first-hand, leading to protests across the country.

The administration left these separated children to languish behind bars, despite being briefed on the negative effects of incarceration on children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly warned that detention results in psychological distress, PTSD, and suicidality. Despite overwhelming evidence regarding the detrimental effects of family incarceration, the administration doubled-down, requesting to repeal the “Flores Settlement Agreement,” the court order that restricts the amount of time that families can be incarcerated. The administration wants to obstruct the rights given by the Flores Settlement in order to increase the length of time children can remain behind bars. Trump officials repeatedly compared detention facilities to “summer camps” while building “tent cities” in the desert to "store" thousands of migrant teenagers, sending children to foster homes away from their families, and ripping babies from their mothers’ arms

Despite the end of the zero-tolerance policy, reports show that the administration is again separating children from their parents—or perhaps never stopped. This time, officials are using vague or unsubstantiated allegations against parents as the justification. Officials from DHS and HHS are also using information obtained from incarcerated children to locate their parents—not to reunite them—but to arrest and deport them. The U.S. government is turning children into unwilling informants, using them as bait to catch their parents. Because of this, family members are unable to pick up their relatives from detention, extending the periods of incarceration for children.  

Because of the administration’s hateful policies, children remain separated from their loved ones for months or even longer. The effects of this are being felt across the country, as well as in the Tornillo detention center—the largest “tent city” built under President Trump. Some of the 2,300 teenagers detained there have been sleeping in canvas tents in the desert since June—with no one on the inside allowed to discuss the conditions with the public.  Recent reports reveal that the staff at the facility are not undergoing traditional FBI background checks, substantially increasing the risk that an individual with a criminal history could have direct access to children. The government is also allowing the facility to sidestep health care requirements; with just 1 doctor for every 100 children, the facility is unable to provide adequate medical care. Our researchers have documented a similar lack of medical care at facilities that care for children across the country—with our most recent reports revealing untenable conditions in Texas and New Jersey.

With President Trump’s treatment of the men, women, and children traveling to the United States as part of the caravan, it is once again remarkably clear that he wants to punish families—and children—for seeking refuge. Trying to illegally bar them from seeking asylum between ports of entry, making them wait for months at the border, proposing a plan to force them to stay in Mexico while their asylum claims are evaluated, and spraying tear gas on innocent women and children are the latest heartbreaking examples. Both President Trump and DHS Secretary Nielson defended the use of tear gas as “very safe” and a form of “self-defense,” yet it is evident that innocent children and families were injured and unneccessarily tramautized by this immoral act.   

While the myriad of immigration news can be overwhelming, this simple fact is true, the Trump Administration’s policies are devastatingly cruel to innocent children who traveled to the United States in search of protection.