[Pnews] Family Separations at Border Constitute Torture, New Report Claims

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 25 15:35:58 EST 2020


  Family Separations at Border Constitute Torture, New Report Claims

John Washington - February 25, 2020

_The separation of_ families by U.S. immigration officials at the 
U.S.-Mexico border amounts to torture, according to a group of medical 
and human rights experts that performed psychological evaluations of 
asylum-seekers. Their report for Physicians for Human Rights, a 
U.S.-based nonprofit that investigates human rights violations around 
the world, found that the policy of family separation — which officially 
ended in the summer of 2018 but continues today 
— “constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” In other words: 

As far as we know, as of last December, over 5,500 children had been 
forcibly separated from their parents under a policy first implemented 
in 2017 and drastically expanded in 2018 
as part of the Trump administration’s so-called zero tolerance crackdown 
on the border. In their investigation, “You Will Never See Your Child 
Again: The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation 
PHR evaluated 17 adults and nine children from Central America who had 
been separated between 60 and 69 days. All of the parents reported 
already having suffered trauma in their home countries, and feared that 
their children would be harmed or killed if they remained or returned. 
And so, in search of protection, they fled.

Instead of finding safety or refuge in the United States, however, they 
were met with new abuses, and further trauma. Children were “forcibly 
removed from [parents’] arms” or simply “disappeared” while their 
parents were taken to court. Some of the parents were then taunted and 
mocked by U.S. immigration officials when they asked after their 
children. The subsequent shock, terror, and grief was not only expected, 
but intentional — designed to push parents into giving up their asylum 

    “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.”

“U.S. officials intentionally carried out actions,” the report explains, 
“causing severe pain and suffering, in order to punish, coerce, and 
intimidate Central American asylum seekers to give up their asylum 
claims.” That intentionality is a key factor that the report leans on to 
make the argument that the abuse meets the legal standard for torture.

A mother from El Salvador recalled the “nightmare” when officers woke 
her at 2 a.m. and interrogated her in front of her daughter. “They told 
her she had broken the law and hence she would be arrested. They 
handcuffed her in front of her daughter and then proceeded to take her 
daughter to another room.”

Another mother from El Salvador recounted asking a U.S. official why her 
daughter was being taken away from her. The official reportedly 
responded that her daughter “was going to be adopted by an American 
family and that [she] would be deported and that she would never see her 
daughter again,” according to the report. Another mother whose daughter 
was taken from her was told she should “learn to deal with it.”

PHR clinicians chronicled that all those they interviewed exhibited 
symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma: confusion, constant 
worry, crying a lot, having difficulty sleeping and eating, nightmares, 
depression, overwhelming anxiety, panic, and despair. Parents described 
feeling “pure agony” and being “incredibly despondent.” One mother 
reported that she felt she was in a “black hole.”

Children, too, exhibited regression in age-appropriate behaviors, 
including excessive crying, refusing to eat, nightmares and other 
sleeping difficulties, loss of developmental milestones, as well as 
clinging to parents and feeling scared following reunification. All but 
two of the children and two of the adults who were evaluated showed 
signs of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

The consequences of torture, especially the torture of children, are 
severe and long-lasting. Children who have undergone torture “have 
higher rates of chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular 
disease, cancer, and premature death,” the report notes. “In addition, 
there is an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, 
depression, and psychosis, and of detrimental coping behaviors such as 
smoking and the use of alcohol or drugs.”

The consequences have “a domino effect,” especially in children, said 
Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical adviser for PHR, influencing overall 
“health, mental health, cognition, behavior.” Such trauma in children 
can actually physically alter the structure of the brain, as well as 
DNA, Mishori explained. She cited evidence of children who had been 
separated suffering severe regression even more than a year after they 
had been reunited with their family.

    The doctor cited evidence of children who had been separated
    suffering severe regression even more than a year after they had
    been reunited with their family.

Hundreds of the children who were separated were preverbal, and the 
report concluded that the U.S. government taking them from their parents 
amounted to “endangering children’s very right to their names and 
identities, a serious violation of children’s rights.” The United States 
is the only member of the United Nations that is not party to the 
Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed in New York in 1989.

For the purposes of the report, PHR followed the Istanbul Protocol: the 
United Nations guidelines for assessing and documenting torture. The 
official U.N. definition of torture is an act that causes severe 
physical or mental suffering, done intentionally, for the purpose of 
coercion, punishment, intimidation, or for a discriminatory reason, by a 
state official or with state consent or acquiescence. The decision to 
label this particular set of cruelties as torture was “not something we 
took lightly,” Mishori told The Intercept. The organization consulted 
with United Nations experts on torture and carefully considered the 
legal definition.

“Part of calling this torture,” Mishori said, “is about accountability.” 
PHR is calling for reparations for the people who were harmed, 
specifically in the form of mental health treatment. People who were 
deported likely received no specialized attention at all. Those who 
remain in the U.S. may have gotten help from nonprofits or 
government-sponsored programs, but a recent Washington Post 
revealed that some therapists working in immigrant detention centers 
share information about their clients with Immigrations and Customs 
Enforcement, or ICE, which can then use details against them in their 
cases. PHR isn’t calling for an international court to take up the case, 
at least not yet, but they do want an “internal reckoning,” Mishori 
said, especially for those who designed and implemented the policy.

PHR also concluded that the policy of family separation constitutes 
enforced disappearance, “which occurs when state agents conceal the fate 
or whereabouts of a person who is deprived of liberty.” A recent article 
from Reveal <https://www.revealnews.org/article/the-disappeared/>, 
giving disturbing substance to PHR’s claim, detailed the story of a 
10-year-old girl who was separated from her family and then disappeared 
into the shelter system for six years, during which her family had no 
idea where she was.

In all of the cases examined in the PHR report, there was at least one 
period where parents had no idea where their children were, were unable 
to contact them, and “had no assurance of, or timeline for, eventual 
contact or reunification.”

One of the recommendations in the report is simply to stop family 
separations. The government has been ordered to do just that: Trump 
signed an executive order on June 20, 2018, and a federal judge issued a 
nationwide injunction on the policy six days later. Yet loopholes were 
left in place to allow the practice to continue 
in certain situations, and at least 1,142 children have been separated 
since the official end to the policy. That is, according to PHR, another 
1,142 children tortured by the U.S. government.

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