Columnists Opinion

CAPITAL REPORT: Family separation produces children with life-long trauma

By Rep. Karen Bass

Contributing Columnist

The purpose of our child welfare system is to protect children from abuse or neglect. Never in history has this system been used to punish parents.

There are two facts that will always remain true about parenting and government: A good parent will always find a better life for their child, no matter what. A cruel country will find overly cruel and impractical ways to punish people.

No matter what.

In our country, it is illegal in each of the 50 states to forcibly separate children from their parents absent evidence that a parent posed a threat to the safety of their child.

As you’ve heard, our forces at the border and throughout the country are separating immigrant children from their families and in Washington D.C., the Trump administration is advertising the process as a sick deterrent to undocumented immigration.

Over the past 36 years, the black immigrant population in the United States has increased by 514 percent. There were 4.2 million black immigrants living in the U.S. just two years ago. Reprehensible immigration policy affects both black and brown communities.

Wielding the child welfare system as a deterrent or a punishment for anyone, whether they are Americans or not, is inhumane. Separation is not a temporary consequence for those involved. This impractical and barbaric practice induces life-long trauma for all of those involved.

At the end of last month, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, in conjunction with the National Foster Youth Institute, hosted more than 100 current and former foster youth from all over the county and I heard directly from our participants of the trauma associated with being separated from their parents. Even being separated from abusive parents can result in life-long trauma, let alone being separated from a parent risking everything for a better life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics condemns immigrant family separation, and family detention, as “harsh and counterproductive.” The American Medical Association denounces family separation because it causes “unnecessary distress, depression and anxiety.”

In addition to punishing children, this policy has serious practical defects.

When a child is separated from his or her parents, the child is sent to a center operated by contractors under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Children languish in these centers or are placed in foster care. While they are there, who meets the baby’s needs if they are sick? Who helps the young children develop? Who helps them with the trauma they have just endured?

Reuniting families is not easy and sometimes impossible. Once children are removed from their parents they are set upon separate paths. Children could linger in the Office of Refugee Resettlement system or be adrift in any state foster care system while their parents could be on track for legal status or deportation.

If a parent comes barely speaking any English, who helps them find their child? If you were separated from your child in a foreign land, how would you find your child? What happens if the parent is deported without the child? Who notifies either party? Does anyone?

The practice of separating children from parents is funded by your tax dollars. All of these costs are avoidable simply by not violating the family unit. If you keep families together, the expense of separate systems is eliminated. Who have we become that we are paying to clean up a mess that we created as a cruel punishment?

The message we are sending to the international community when we advertise our willingness to psychologically damage people coming to our borders seeking safety is that we are done leading and that we are abandoning the morals and principles that founded this country in exchange for animosity that forced slaves to build it.

Our country no longer wants your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free and if they come, we will punish them in horrendous ways.

This practice shows we are willing to levy pain that should never befall a mother and agony that should never happen to a child, and have it last forever.

Rep. Karen Bass is the congresswoman from California’s 37th District, which includes Culver City, Leimert Park, the Crenshaw District and parts of South Los Angeles. Her Capitol Report column runs monthly in The Wave.