The Continuing Tragedy of the Separated Children

Just because mass separations have been halted doesn’t mean that the crisis is over.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” President Trump said on June 20, when he signed an executive order halting his administration’s depraved practice of separating migrant children from parents seeking asylum at the nation’s southern border. “This will solve that problem.”

It may be that signing such an order was a matter of conscience for Mr. Trump — that he felt morally compelled to address the humanitarian crisis caused by his own “zero tolerance” border policy.

But if so, the matter should still upset him. While family separations have slipped from the spotlight — allowing Mr. Trump to enjoy his morning executive time without enduring televised images of sobbing migrant children — the crisis itself is far from over. Hundreds of children remain separated from their parents. Many of those who have been reunited bear the scars of trauma. Migrant families continue to be rounded up into government detention centers, though now at least they are being held together.

With its zero-tolerance barbarism, the Trump administration managed to do an impressive amount of damage in a very short time. In the six weeks the policy was in effect, more than 2,600 children were taken from their parents, with zero thought or planning for how the families might eventually be reunited.

Less than a week after the executive order, a federal judge, Dana Sabraw, ruling in a class-action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, placed a temporary injunction on family separations and ordered the administration to reunite all those it had already torn apart. A deadline of July 26 was set, with children under the age of 5 put on a fast track.

More than a month past that deadline, progress is mixed. After a bumpy start, and with occasional foot dragging on the government’s part, more than 2,000 children have been reunited with their parents. But the shadow of what these innocents have suffered lingers. Volunteers working with the families report signs of separation trauma and other mental health issues in the children. Some have become withdrawn and silent. Some panic around strangers. Others are terrified to let their parents out of their sight, even to use the bathroom. Medical professionals warn of long-term emotional and psychological damage, including anxiety disorders, depression, trust issues, memory problems and developmental delays.

By Editorial Board for THE NEW YORK TIMES
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