Amidst all the awfulness of the Trump administration, the forced separation of migrant children from their parents at the nation’s southern border has stood out as the worst of the worst. Before the president’s State of the Union address, let’s remember that there are possibly thousands of children and their parents who might never see each other again. And we can blame that on the president, who apparently doesn’t believe reuniting these families is particularly important or necessary.
You can read about Team Trump’s moral ghastliness in court documents filed by the administration’s deputy director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) late last week in an ongoing case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Not only is the task of returning all the children to their parents potentially not “in the realm of the possible,” the administration said, it “would substantially imperil ORR’s ability to perform its core functions without significant increases in appropriations from Congress, and a rapid, dramatic expansion of the ORR data team.” In plain English, the Trump administration is essentially saying, “Forget it. We’ve got better things to do with our time.” After all, they’ve got a wall to fund and build!
Moreover, in an incredible demonstration of chutzpah, the administration went on to claim it would hurt the current welfare of the separated, missing children to return them to their parents, as if taking boys and girls from their mothers and fathers were no big deal. “Family reunification of minors already residing with close relatives, parents or family friends could interfere with the child’s routine and established relationships,” the administration said in its filing, essentially equating family friends and parents.
According to a report filed last month by the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general’s office, beginning in 2017, thousands more children were forcibly removed from their parents at the border than previously acknowledged. Tracking was limited, with the result that many of these boys and girls were lost within the system. These children are not included in the more than 2,700 children in the ACLU lawsuit, whom the administration is under court order to return to their parents. (Yes, some migrant children were taken from their parents by border authorities before Donald Trump assumed the presidency, and the system did not track them well, either. But it’s the current administration that turned taking children from their mothers and fathers into a routine policy designed to deter people from entering the United States, until public pressure forced Trump to reverse course.)
Both the children who are part of the ACLU’s ongoing lawsuit and those thousands who are not were seized by U.S. authorities. In many cases, the parents were given little information about where their children — some of whom were infants — would be taken. There are allegations of trickery: The Texas Civil Rights Project claims one mother handed over a child to Border Patrol agents after being told she would receive a bath. Children were held in caged pens, tents and a former Walmart, and parceled out to social service organizations across the country. Children as young as 2 have been ordered to appear at court hearings, sometimes with no legal representation.
The Trump administration’s contempt — for commonly accepted standards of human behavior, for the families forever traumatized and impacted by this terrible policy, for the children who might well never see their mothers or fathers again — is extraordinary. It’s Trump administration officials who talk on and on about the need for a wall at the border, while barely deigning to mention these boys and girls. Trump needs to step up this evening and say he will take whatever actions are necessary to return them to their parents. Anything else is unacceptable.