Opinion: Trump border policy as child abuse, and a path to justice

What would you do if you learned that a daycare facility was holding your children inside a room with concrete floors surrounded by chain-link fencing, i.e., inside cages? The answer is obvious: you would do everything in your power to rescue your children.

But, we imagine you would do more than that. We imagine you would do everything you could to make sure that no other child came to harm from the same facility. You would call the police and, in a just world, the operators of the facility would be detained, public outcry would ensue, and, most likely, the operators would be prosecuted and eventually jailed for child abuse.

There should be no doubt that the practice of separating children from families at borders and then confining separated children in cages should be described with the same term: child abuse.

The Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines child abuse and neglect to include acts which result in “emotional harm” and the “failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” Such abuse has, for weeks, been taking place at a national scale. Stopping this barbaric practice does not undo the damage.

The fact remains that as a direct result of a change in policy by the Trump Administration, thousands of children – including months-old infants and years-old toddlers – have been held alone and afraid by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as well as the HHS.

These are children of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. These are children of parents who saw America as a safe harbor, a land of democracy, hope, and opportunity. The parents of these children cannot rescue them. Instead, they were detained in separate facilities.

But the immigration status of these children and their parents should have had no bearing on their basic treatment. These children deserve shelter, clothing, food, medical care, and the right to remain with their parents before and after their immigration status has been resolved.

On June 20th, President Trump issued an executive order to halt further family separations. We must demand far more than the end of a practice that should never have begun.

First, detained children must be reunited with their families – irrespective of whether or not their parents have been expelled. It is the responsibility of the U.S. government to right this horrific wrong and restore all children to their families. Not to do so would mean that the Trump administration has officially sanctioned the kidnapping of thousands of children.

Second, those parents and children who are reunited in the United States must remain protected by basic Constitutional rights even as their immigration status is under review. These families have the right to timely, individualized review of their cases with effective legal representation.

Finally, the architects and administrators of the family separation policy within the Trump administration should be held accountable for their actions. These architects and administrators should no longer be in positions of public service, they should be subject to shame and scorn, they should face their victims in courts and, in a just world, pay the price for what they have wrought.

On June 30th, we will stand in Lafayette Park outside the White House with our two young children as part of nationwide protests and demand justice for those irrevocably harmed by the Trump administration’s inhumane border policy. We urge all those who can to join.

The opinions expressed herein represent the views of the authors only.

Joshua S. Weitz is a professor at Georgia Tech. Maira Goytia is an assistant professor at Spelman College.