Day 10 post-deadline: hundreds remain separated. What’s next?

John Moore / Getty

August 5 marks 10 days since the court-ordered deadline to reunite all families separated at the border. As of July 26, 711 kids remained separated. By the time August 2 rolled around, the government revised that to 572. Hundreds of affected parents have been deported, can’t be located, and/or have a criminal history that the government claims — without evidence — disqualifies them from reunification.

That’s not all. One of the strangest moments in this case occurred during the status conference Friday, when the government argued that the Plaintiffs themselves should use their considerable resources (?!) to locate the parents that it had itself deported.

The redoubtable Judge Sabraw sharply rebuked the government, noting that every “lost” parent means a permanently orphaned child, a tragedy that is entirely the responsibility of this administration. He added that “the government has the sole burden and responsibility and obligation to make [reunification] happen.”

Judge Sabraw repeated that instruction in the status report issued late Friday, along with a command that the government turn over to Plaintiffs information on 30 parents it claims are “ineligible” due to criminal history. While the government seems to believe it has plenary authority to deem parents “ineligible” for reunification by application of its own criteria, the judge was having none of it.

Next status report due August 9; next hearing August 10.

Other related updates follow:

Court-ordered trauma treatment

Court filings in multiple cases document the trauma that separation and detention away from their parents caused to children. In one case I’ve found, two children who appeared in front of Judge Victor Bolden of the District of Connecticut displayed such severe trauma that the judge ordered continuing trauma treatment for them.

Despite the fact that our society is growing more aware of the risks of child trauma, it’s still not universally understood that the trauma suffered by these children is compounded day by day. Children experience separation as trauma; they are impacted whether or not they are abused in the detention centers and shelters. That’s why the trauma doesn’t magically end once they are “settled” at centers, nor does it end after reunification. The effects can easily be permanent. They often are.

As of today, the government continues to characterize the child detention centers as “like summer camps,” despite all we know about trauma. Added one official at today’s oversight hearing, regarding family detention: “these people are only there because they broke the law.” So which is it: summer camp or jail? I think we know the answer.

Abuse in the shelters

Abuse, emotional and physical, has been widely reported by the children in declarations filed in various cases. Children have reported being kicked, yelled at, told they will not see their parents again, kept in unbearably cold temperatures, and given food that was rotten, frozen, raw, or otherwise inedible.

Judge Dolly Gee found, in an order issued in the Flores litigation last week, that the government has administered psychotropic drugs to UACs (not separated children) without parental consent or court order. She found abuses in one center bad enough to order that center emptied of youth without an individualized determination of danger to self or others.

Why family detention is unacceptable

HR 6470, introduced July 23, would eliminate licensing requirement for family detention centers. But there’s more: the bill references “alien minor[s]” who are not “unaccompanied alien child[ren]” — presumably children taken into custody with their parents — and finds no presumption that such a child should not be detained. Translated into English, this means that the default will be to detain families together — not to release them into the community, as was common (and highly effective) prior practice.

Last Tuesday, in the first and perhaps only oversight hearing on the situation, Senator Grassley suggested that Flores’ 20-day limit on detention should be done away with, but the facilities should be made, if anything, safer. He’s talking about theoretical family detention camps. Meanwhile, “step-up” or higher-security facilities for unaccompanied children feature the abuses that caused Judge Dolly Gee to order one of them emptied.

Indefinite family detention is unacceptable from both legal and medical perspectives. Legally, it obviously violates due process. Medically, it constitutes unsafe conditions for anyone, and — as many doctors and the AAP have said — it is especially inappropriate and dangerous for children.

Demand that our government #ReturnTheChildren, but don’t forget to keep an eye on attempts to prime the pump for indefinite family detention. Don’t let it happen. #Resist.