When is a child worth less than a suitcase? When the child in question is an immigrant at the U.S. border, and the Trump administration exercises its “zero tolerance” policy.
In a ruling last summer, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw summed up the administration’s utterly immoral and cavalier attitude toward immigrant children that it had separated from their parents: “The unfortunate reality is that under the present system, migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”
The administration didn’t even attempt to keep track of many of the children being torn from their mothers’ arms as part of its inhumane and unnecessary family separation policy.
Now, incredibly, the administration says that thousands of migrant children shouldn’t be reunited with their families — ever — because it would take too much effort and might traumatize the children.
If only the administration had worried about traumatizing children before it began taking them from their families, putting them in camp cities and then farming them out to “sponsor” homes.
The Department of Health and Human Services was so incompetent in its administration of this policy that Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for evaluations, said a precise count of the number of children separated is impossible, though it’s estimated to be thousands more than the 2,737 the government has claimed in court documents.
Thousands of children — some as young as 18 months — taken from their parents, possibly never to be returned.
In a court filing ordered by Sabraw in response to the inspector general’s report, HHS Deputy Director of Refugee Resettlement Jallyn Sualog said it could take 100 employees working more than a year to review all the cases, and that taking children from their sponsors would be “disruptive and harmful to the child.”
“Disrupting the family relationship is not a recommended child welfare practice,” she wrote, apparently with no sense of irony.
The tragic thing is that the Trump administration, in all its callousness and overwhelming indifference to the plight of these children, might be right. Separated from their parents for months and months, the children might well be traumatized by the disruption of their new normal.
Even their parents, who risked so much for an opportunity at a better life, might prefer their children have that opportunity even without them — a Solomonic response to a cruel and unimaginable circumstance manufactured by the U.S. government.
The brutal reality is that the administration clearly had no concern about the human dimensions of its cold-hearted policy. This abominable outcome was foreseeable had anyone in the administration, anyone at all, given a damn.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine how this can end in anything other than tragedy for thousands of children and their parents. Perhaps the American Civil Liberties Union can win some measure of justice in its ongoing litigation. Maybe Congress can force some action on the administration.
But it seems likely that thousands of parents are likely to never see their children again. They might go through the rest of their lives never knowing what happened to their kids and whether their attempt at seeking asylum was worth such an awful sacrifice.
So, too, thousands of children will grow up not knowing their real parents and not understanding their sacrifice.