Child abuse now official U.S. border policy

A young boy in a van headed for a detention center in Texas
A young boy in a van headed for a detention center in Texas Los Angles Times/TNS

Anyone with a shred of empathy must be sickened by what our country is doing at the border.

Science tells us that childhood trauma causes lifelong physical and emotional harm, even alters human DNA. When U.S. authorities strip children from their immigrant parents and house them in settings that resemble dog kennels, we are inflicting a harsh and lasting punishment on innocents.

Families that are refugees from violence are being separated, while in the past they were first given a chance to make their case for asylum.

Large areas of Central America are under the control of brutal criminal gangs, including MS-13, which President Donald Trump has called "animals." On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the administration would cease granting asylum to victims of gang violence or domestic violence, forms of terror that frequently overlap. So, our country will be making easy prey of women and children by sending them back to the control of gangs that Trump calls "animals." The logic escapes us, though the cruelty is conspicuous.

More cruelty is being precipitated by other administration decisions, including a "zero tolerance policy" announced by Sessions last month, whereby everyone crossing the border, even asylum seekers, is charged with illegal entry. Children then are turned over to a system that is unprepared and unable to care for them.

Sessions has defended separating parents from children as a legitimate deterrent to illegal immigration, although experience suggests such deterrence only redirects families to more dangerous routes.

Stories that are coming out of immigrant detention centers — such as parents being told by federal agents that their children are being taken for a bath, but then never returning — are appalling.

While family separations occurred pre-Trump, the number has recently jumped. The Washington Post reports 415 separations between May 21 and June 5.

Separating families is more expensive than keeping them together and using a monitoring system until their cases are adjudicated. Trump seems to be using the children to force Congress into giving him changes in immigration law.

House leaders are drafting a sweeping immigration plan that would give Trump much of what he wants and could be voted on next week. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not eager to touch a hot button like immigration in an election year.

The best hope for child refugees is that public opinion will shame the Trump administration into treating families more humanely, assuming, that is, that the Trump administration is capable of shame.