The fact that the Trump administration continues to break apart families even when the pretext for doing so is slight — a minor crime on a parent’s record; a soiled diaper used as “proof” of neglect; an unsubstantiated hunch that an adult is not actually a child’s parent — suggests that basic principles of humane and decent conduct remain optional.
Even after a federal judge ordered the government to reunify families in June 2018, following the administration’s disastrously cruel policy that outraged the nation, the practice of wrenching children away from their parents did not stop; it merely slowed.
The Trump administration ended the “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in systematic family separations 13 months ago
but, since then, 911 children have been separated from their parents, according to a court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union. According to government records, 678 of those separations were for alleged criminal offenses involving the parents.
But in the information it provided the court, the government made little distinction between crimes that were proved or alleged, serious or minor, recent or long ago. And in many cases detailed by the ACLU, the reasons for taking a child from their parents were flimsy at best: a father whose speech impediment kept him from answering a Border Patrol agent’s questions; convictions for marijuana possession; driving without a license.
No one doubts there are good reasons to scrutinize migrant families seeking asylum and subject them to questioning, and legitimate circumstances that justify separating children from families — when parents are serious criminals, or pose a threat to their children, or are incapable of providing competent care. In rare instances, migrant adults who pose as parents are unrelated to the children in their care and are using them in an attempt to cross the border and claim asylum; in those cases, the government must intervene.
The problem is that the administration continues separating some children from their actual, competent parents — caregivers who pose no threat to their offspring. Which raises a question: How could anyone imagine that a child is better off under the protection of government agencies than in the care of their parents?
The ongoing practice of shattering families is evidence of the administration’s callous indifference — to migrant children, including toddlers and many others under the age of 10, who are at risk of lasting emotional and psychological scars; and to migrant parents, whose suffering is unimaginable.
The ACLU has asked U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw to set specific rules under which family separation can be undertaken by the authorities. Given the fast, loose and flexible standards that some agents have employed, the judge’s intervention is a matter of urgency.