Over my years with the Center for Victims of Torture, I’ve spoken with many clients who are refugees and asylum seekers, who escaped the violence of war and, because of their political affinity, religion or identity, escaped persecution and came to us for healing. I have heard time after time from so many of them that one of the most important reasons they were determined to move beyond their torture was to be stronger for their children, to restore a foundation in their own lives so that they could again provide well for their sons and daughters.
And so it is with horror that I have watched the chilling spectacle of families being torn apart, and parents sent for prosecution, as they attempt to reach safety in the United States.
At CVT, we care for survivors of extreme violence. People who have survived torture and atrocities committed by militias, violent governments and armies speak to us every day about the nightmares they endured and the duress of flight. They speak of loss – loss of loved ones, homes, communities, countries. The loss they know is like the air they breathe; for many, pain is part of their daily existence.
To think that people in these circumstances, fleeing atrocities in a desperate attempt to reach safety, are met at America’s border by U.S. officials who pull their children from their arms is so disturbing that it is nearly incomprehensible.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly justified this abhorrent practice by claiming that family separation is required by law. It isn’t. What they really mean is that they can’t indefinitely jail immigrant children the same way they do their parents, because (thankfully) doing so is prohibited. Of course, there is another option — a humane, responsible and cost-effective one: releasing families into alternative to detention (ATD) programs. But the Trump administration has foolishly abandoned that sensible approach in favor of a punitive and cruel tactic intended to intimidate and control immigrants sufficiently to keep them out and discourage others from attempting to come here, including those seeking asylum.
People are fleeing for their lives, for the lives of their children. The U.S. is intentionally compounding the trauma and fear these individuals are undergoing. The impact of separation on children who are already coping with trauma is devastating and long lasting.
Don’t trade these harms for another
Our leaders cannot let these policies continue. But neither must they trade one set of harms for another. Some lawmakers have proposed a cynical and dangerous “fix” to family separation: changing the law to permit prolonged detention of children, so that they can be locked away with their parents for the duration of their immigration cases. Congress simply must do better.
I urge you to stand up against this outrage that is being conducted in our names. Contact your members of Congress and tell them to take smart, compassionate steps to end these practices, steps that are consistent with the oath they took and values the United States has long sought to embody. Together we must push back against this extreme cruelty.
Curt Goering is executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture.
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