Recently, NBC News reported that lawyers cannot find the parents of 545 migrant children—children who had been separated from their families by the U.S. Government, under the direction of the Trump administration. Horrifically, this isn’t surprising—in 2018 it was reported that ICE lost track of 1,500 children, twice. You all must be wondering, how are they losing these children? Why are they separating the families? What’s happening?
First, let me tell you that as a child of an immigrant this is very disheartening because picturing my three-year-old self looking for my parents is not only scary, but traumatizing. In my case, I would have been able to stay with a family member who has citizenship because I was lucky to be born here. But unlike my siblings and me, some migrant children were not born here. Some were brought here by their families to have a better life.
How can you lose a human being? Well, these children are lost in a disorganized and corrupt system. Cases are different from person to person. ICE detention centers vary from state to state, which is a part of the problem! When someone is detained in ICE they are subjected to an administrative process that can take forever because it is hard to prove someone is here illegally. After they are processed they go to an ICE facility, but often facilities are full or have very limited space. So a person can be detained in California, but could ultimately be held in another state.
International news covered the horror of the Trump administration’s family separation policy at the border, but family separation happens all the time when people are detained in one state then held in another, making it extremely difficult for their families to visit them. This has been a problem for years, even before 2016. ICE has historically lacked oversight, transparency, and accountability internally, but the Trump administration’s obsession with immigration and policies like the zero tolerance policy have forced overcrowding and additional separation of parents from their children.
ICE isn’t there to protect anyone’s rights, they take them away. Immigrants all deserve basic human rights which are clothing, a safe place to sleep, food, and water. The Trump administration has denied people basic rights—right now they often get only the clothing they are arrested in, they get a cold cement floor with maybe a piece of fabric—or mylar—to cover their body. They get basic food and water, and in one detention center some women were even sterilized. To put it into similar terms, they live in concentration camps. Many of these families have been separated since 2017. Imagine not being able to find your parents or children for a little over 3 years? 3 years of trauma.
Trauma to the BIPOC community is not something new. This community already deals with so much trauma in everyday life, but just imagine an experience like family separation. These children who are found and reunited with their families will experience lasting effects, not only in their mental state, but biologically. If these migrant children do not learn how to cope with this trauma it will impact their physical health within their brain like higher cortisol responses to certain stressors.
Going without help could do more damage to their interpersonal relationships, like the one with their parents. They might blame their parents for what has happened. They might have abandonment issues. They might distrust authority. Not to mention other mental disorders that can appear like PTSD, depression, personality disorders, and dissociation. Even if they learn to cope and get all the help they need, it doesn’t mean they can now trust the government that was supposed to protect them.
They are separating these families as a means of control and power over my Latinx community. The Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy gives a frank glimpse of the truth: that they don’t care about BIPOC immigrant families, that they view immigrant children as collateral damage in realizing their nativist agenda.The Trump administration has not only criminalized my community, but has taken advantage of our will to find freedom, to protect our families, and to better ourselves.
But even through all of this, many members of my community, who have been criminalized, are willing to continue working to provide for their families—picking food while breathing in the fumes of the fires during an epidemic with only a mask to protect them—so the rest of the country can have dinner tonight.
Voting in the past election was the first step to enacting change. You voted to keep families together. You voted to find the lost parents. You voted to help my community and to better yours. Now, we must continue with accountability to make sure desperately-needed changes happen.
Jenny Magaña is the Digital Communications Associate for Alliance for a Better Utah