Originally published in the spring 2018 Torch
Not long after the 2016 elections, a local newspaper asked me to sum up Obama’s record on civil and human rights during his time in office. I told the reporter that, while Obama should be lauded for his stand on samesex marriage and police reform, his policy of deporting thousands of Central American unaccompanied minors and families with children back into the imminently dangerous conditions that caused them to flee would, in my view, forever stain his legacy.
While I stand by that critique, I admit it rings a little hollow when compared with the scale of callousness and cruelty we have come to expect from the current administration. There are so many examples we could cite. The Muslim ban. Ending temporary protected status for El Salvadoran refugees. Trump’s rescission of DACA.
But the Trump-era policy that gives the surest glimpse of the depths to which the Trump administration is willing to stoop came to light as a result of a recent ACLU lawsuit. Our colleagues in San Diego and at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of a woman and her 7-year-old daughter who were forcibly torn from each other’s arms and detained separately, 2,000 miles apart, after fleeing violence in their home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once separated, the woman could hear her daughter frantically screaming in the next room that she did not want to be parted from her mother. For nearly four months the young girl has sat alone, without her mother’s care, in a shelter for “unaccompanied” minors in Chicago.
Instead of finding aid and comfort in our country, as they hoped, the mother and child found a new version of the terror they thought they had escaped in the Congo. The mother has since been released, and as of this writing, efforts are underway to reunite her with her daughter, but the trauma they’ve experienced cannot be undone.
This is no isolated incident. This case and hundreds of others demonstrate that even if the Trump administration does not yet have a formal policy of separating border crossing families from their children, they are doing so as a matter of practice. The reason? To scare others from seeking refuge in the U.S.
Yes, you read that right. The Department of Homeland Security’s deterrence plan, it seems, is to emotionally torture young children to set an example for other refugee families who might come. Because, how else does a child experience the trauma of being ripped from the arms of her mother and sent to a distant, alien place that, by all accounts, looks like prison?
And the fact that some high-ranking ICE official in some lofty office building in Washington, D.C. may have spent time devising this plan--as if it were legitimate policy-making--is as repugnant as it is absurd.
In this edition of the Torch you will read about the case of Manuel Pérez, whom we are representing in a petition to parole out of the detention facility where he is being held so he can obtain the medical care he so desperately needs. Manuel, too, was separated from his 9-year-old son when ICE detained them on the border near San Diego. With your help, the ACLU is doing everything possible to fight against this despicable practice. Because the path to making America great again is not paved with cruelty, arrogance, and selfishness. It is lit by the same values that draw immigrants to our shores: freedom, fairness, and justice.