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As Tougher Border Wall Threatens Migrant Families, Report Finds U.S. Loses 1500 Migrant Children

US Border Migrant Children
A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. Construction is underway to extend a secondary fence over the top of this hill and eventually to the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: US Army, Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde)

As the Trump administration and its allies in law enforcement and border patrol continue to escalate tensions at the U.S. – Mexico border, thousands of children are caught in the crossfire. Children of immigrants fleeing to the border are being used as bargaining chips in political games that place allegiance to political party and ideology above the rights and welfare of human beings.

U.S. Loses Track of Migrant Children Report Finds

Immigration policy wars come as a new report announced that the U.S. lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children in 2017 after a government agency placed the minors in the homes of adult sponsors in communities across the country, according to testimony before the Senate last April.

The Associated Press reports the data comes after two years of rolling back protections for children fleeing violence at the U.S. border. The Department of Health and Human Services has limited funds for tracking unaccompanied minors and found they had lost track of 1,475 children after making follow up calls to check on their welfare.

Children and the Border

While children have always been at risk under current immigration legislation and protocols, recent comments from the Trump administration suggest the U.S. is doing away all together with the safety measures in place to ensure that the mental and physical well-being of migrant children is taken into account. The Trump administration appears to be deciding to prioritize detainment and deportation of as many immigrants as possible.

“If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday at a law enforcement conference.

The first months of 2018 were characterized by the Trump administration continually revising immigration policy and instituting a number of new guidelines and initiatives. Many of the changes have had catastrophic effects for the immigrant community in America, but some say the troubling spike in the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents without plans for reunification might be one of the most disturbing developments yet.

Removing children from the care of their parents indefinitely or for a set period of time is not a new practice in the world of immigration enforcement, and immigration authorities have been removing children from the care of their parents and placing them in foster care or an alternative system for decades. However, until recently this practice was only supposed to be employed in extreme cases where the well-being of the child was in jeopardy or some other compelling argument existed as to why the child should not be returned to his or her parents.

Changing Immigration Policy at The White House?

Policy at the White House seems to have changed. Comments from the White House suggest that the threat of losing their children is being used to deter immigrants from attempting to cross the border. While addressing the Senate on Jan. 16,  2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stated that codifying the practice of separating children from their parents at the border was one of the new legal measures the Department of Homeland Security is considering in order “to discourage parents from bringing their children here illegally.”

Though officials have long claimed that children are only separated from their parents when the child’s safety is at risk, some see the White House statement as indicating that children’s well-being is being threatened by governmental entities in order to deter would-be immigrants from crossing the border.

Impact of Family Separations

Experts say the negative impact of aggressive immigration enforcement on the Latino community can be staggering, and they are only just beginning to grasp the many ways in which a traumatic event such as deportation can affect all members of an immigrant family long after it has occurred.

The negative effects can even extend to unborn babies, as a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology found: following the massive 2008 ICE raid in Postville, Iowa, the risk of low birth weight of children born to Latina mothers rose more than  24 percent. This risk was observed in children born both to immigrant mothers and mothers who were born in the United States, demonstrating the ripple effect that policies can have on an entire racial community regardless of immigrant status.

Psychologists and other mental health professionals have a name for the specific psychological pressure that many immigrants encounter: extrafamilial acculturative stress. Monica Posada, a clinical psychologist who works with the Latino community in Philadelphia, explained this phenomenon by saying, “Every immigrant experiences increased levels of stress when they must adapt to a new society; however, undocumented immigrants experience a higher level of acculturative stress because they must also face obstacles such as fear of deportation, anti-immigrant laws, and, in the worst of cases, separation of family members.”

The separation of children from their parents is an extremely difficult situation for both parties and one that can have profoundly damaging effects. In instances involving very young children the psychological impact can be enormous. If handled improperly these instances could lead to a lifetime of mental stress and emotional agony for affected individuals.

Posada stressed the importance of having a plan in place in case deportation and separation of family members becomes a possibility. “Parents should be prepared in case they are faced with the treat of deportation. … Creating a plan of action and finding proper legal counsel can minimize the psychological and emotional effects these events can have on children,” she said.

ICE officials in the Philadelphia office, which is considered to be one of the most aggressive in the country, did not respond to requests for an interview. According to the American Immigration Council, ICE is not required to notify Children’s Protective Services of the whereabouts of undocumented parents of children in CPS custody and typically doesn’t. In addition, the majority of undocumented parents who have their children taken away from them are unable to attend child custody hearings since they are in a different country (and aren’t allowed to enter the United States), have limited English skills, and are typically unable to have any contact with their children whatsoever. This makes it incredibly difficult for them to ever be reunited with their children.

The issue threatens to get worse if more children fleeing poverty and violence are torn away from their parents. Will Trump’s immigration policies deter immigrants from coming to the U.S. border? Or will the U.S. end up with even more migrant children in the adoption system?

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