Family Separation Is Torture

The Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border is torture, according to a new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a nonprofit organization that investigates human rights abuses internationally.

For “You Will Never See Your Child Again: The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation,” psychiatrists from the organization evaluated 26 migrant children and adults who had been separated for an average of 60 to 69 days. Most of the 17 adults and nine children in the study met the criteria for at least one mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. All of the conditions, the report explains, are “consistent with, and likely linked to, the trauma of family separation.”

Physicians for Human Rights also points out that many of the report’s subjects were fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, and that what happened when the families arrived at the U.S. border was a continuation of the horror they traveled so far to escape. Per the report:

Parents reported that immigration authorities forcibly removed children from their parents’ arms, removed parents while their children slept, or simply “disappeared” the children while their parents were in courtrooms or receiving medical care. Almost all reported that immigration authorities failed to provide any explanation as to why they were being separated, where their family members were being sent, and if or how they would be reunited. In addition, the asylum narratives documented instances of four parents who were taunted and mocked by immigration authorities when asking for the whereabouts of their children.

The report also emphasizes the Trump administration’s actions were targeted and intentional. “U.S. officials intentionally carried out actions causing severe pain and suffering, in order to punish, coerce and intimidate Central American asylum seekers to give up their asylum claims.”

Even the doctors conducting the evaluations were stunned. “As a clinician, nobody was prepared for this to happen on our soil,” Dr. Ranit Mishori, senior medical adviser at Physicians for Human Rights and a co-author of the report, told The Guardian. “It is beyond shocking that this could happen in the United States, by Americans, at the instruction and direct intention of U.S. government officials.”

These physicians are joining a growing chorus of groups, including human rights organizations and legal experts, calling family separation torture.

“This is a spectacularly cruel policy, where frightened children are being ripped from their parent’s arms and taken to overflowing detention centers, which are effectively cages,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director in June of 2018. “This is nothing short of torture.”

Lawyers and other researchers from the Texas Civil Rights Project screened almost 10,000 migrants and asylum seekers for their 2019 report, “The Real National Emergency: Zero Tolerance & the Continuing Horrors of Family Separation at the Border.” Of those thousands, the staff conducted longer interviews with 272 adults. All of them were separated from a child family member;  38 of those interviewed were parents or legal guardians, with a total of 46 separated children. The youngest child was 8.5 months old. “This policy tortured thousands of families,” the authors concluded.

The effects of these policies linger for years. As Mishori explained, “Something like that does not just resolve once you’re reunified with your parents. It’s something you carry with you possibly forever.”

Read the full report here.

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