A new NGO report has found that the treatment suffered by families forcibly separated at the US-Mexico border meets the definition of torture.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) says its report “provides the first medical and psychological evidence of the long-lasting harm associated with family separation”.
In the report, “‘You Will Never See Your Child Again’: The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation”, PHR describes findings from in-depth psychological evaluations of 26 asylum seekers, nine of them children and 17 parents.
Of those evaluated, all the children and all but two of the adults showed the symptoms of various psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
One of the report’s co-authors, Ranit Mishori, MD, said that “Even when evaluated by medical professionals a year after being reunited with their families, these kids and parents still exhibit signs of compound trauma.”
Many of the families arrived at the border already suffering psychological trauma thanks to violence they had experienced in their home countries or en route to the border, including threats and abuse from gangs.
According to the report, parents and children were often separated in traumatic ways, with children forcibly removed from their parents’ arms, left sleeping alone while their parents were taken away, or “disappeared” while their parents were elsewhere.
The families interviewed for the report described being told they would never see each other again, and recounted that the conditions they suffered in detention were often overcrowded and even violent.
The policy of separating children and parents who crossed the Mexican border without documents – including asylum seekers – began after the Trump administration moved to a “zero-tolerance” approach to border crossings. It attracted both public outrage and legal challenges, and Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the practice in June 2018.
However, the administration has continued to pursue hardline immigration policies since then, including ones that would affect families, and the separations continued after Trump signed his order. According to government numbers received by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 1,110 families have been separated since then.
In September 2019, a federal judge rejected new regulations that would have allowed the government to detain children and their parents indefinitely.
Commenting on the report’s launch, PHR executive director Donna McKay stated that “Family separation has not ended, nor have all separated families been reunited.” She called on the Trump administration “to immediately reunite families, including deported parents, and end this deplorable family separation practice for good.”
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