trump zero tolerance policy

“My chest hurts…I can’t feel my heart”: The Horrors of Trump’s Family Separation Policy

An investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services, released on Wednesday, uncovered the severe impact Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy – which separated children from their parents in detention centres – had on the thousands of children involved.

The policy, which was in place last year, separated children, infants and babies from their parents and guardians at the US-Mexico border.

According to its findings, many children experienced panic attacks, and separation anxiety – with others believing that their parents had abandoned them or been killed. Other, younger children, “cried inconsolably”; running tirelessly through the centres searching for their missing parents.

“You get a lot of ‘my chest hurts’ even though everything is fine medically”, clinicians from the centres told a government watchdog, “some told us ‘every heartbeat hurts’ or ‘I can’t feel my heart’”.

 Dr. Gilbert Kliman, a child psychiatrist, called the policy a “vast, cruel experiment on the backs of children” and described the long-term psychiatric harm such an experience can cause for them. Many children, he argues, go on to experience adulthood trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety.

Other, young children, “cried inconsolably” and ran through the centres, searching for their missing parents.

Many of the children and parents who find themselves in the US’ detention centres have already undergone trauma, either in their home countries or on their journey to the US. The separation policy prolonged and amplified this trauma.

Last June, a judge ordered President Trump to sign an executive order which ended the separation of parents at the border; a moment which was celebrated across the US, and world. By then, children and babies had been being separated from their parents at the border for more than a year – with the investigation finding that the practice had been happening a year before it was officially announced to the public on April 2018.

“some told us ‘every heartbeat hurts’ or ‘I can’t feel my heart’”.

What’s more, despite the ending of the policy, investigators have found that the practice continues to happen unlawfully, with an average of five children a day still being separated from their parents at the Mexico-US border. The total number of children who have been forcibly removed from their parents or guardians since the practice was first used is in the high thousands. According to estimates, there are still children and parents who have not been reunited since they were separated last year.   

…an average of five children a day are still being separated from their parents at the Mexico-US border.

“This confirms what we already knew” Beto O’Rourke, a leading Democrat figure tweeted, “the children separated from their families, locked in cages, forced to sleep on concrete floors under tinfoil blankets, will live with this trauma for the rest of their lives. We’ll have it on our consciences for the rest of ours”.

Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images:

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Written by
Luna Williams