federal court

Since January, President Trump has apparently been telling outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to violate a federal court order banning his child separation policy.

NBC reporters Geoff Bennett and Julia Ainsley reported Monday morning that prior to being fired, Nielsen pushed back on Trump’s urges to reinstate the policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the border. Bennett added that a “senior administration official” said Trump viewed child separation as the “most effective policy at deterring large numbers of asylum seekers.”

“According to 2 of the sources, Nielsen told Trump that federal court orders prohibited DHS from reinstating the policy & that he would be reversing his own executive order from June that ended family separation, Bennett tweeted.

While President Trump was ordered to end the family separation policy in June of 2018 after an order issued by a federal court in San Diego, the policy continued in earnest for several more months. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services insisted that separating children from their parents stopped on June 20, 2018, even though The Washington Post reported that more than 100 undocumented children had been separated from their parents between June and November of last year.

The “zero tolerance” policy, which began on April 6, 2018, resulted in the separation of more than 3,000 immigrant children from their mothers and fathers after being detained at the border. Even after being reunited, many of the children remain traumatized from the experience. A recent HuffPost report detailed the experiences of half a dozen parents whose children were taken from them while the “zero tolerance” policy was in effect.

They describe how their once affable sons and daughters are now angry, withdrawn and unable to sleep. Some don’t want to go to school or leave the house, for fear of being separated once again, and constantly burst into tears.

Other children have physical scars, from self-harming after prolonged periods in detention. And at least 200 children remain permanently separated from their parents who were deported back to life-threatening situations and opted to keep their sons and daughters safe in the U.S.

Mental health experts and lawyers told HuffPost that family separation, which happened to potentially thousands of families before the implementation of zero tolerance and which continues despite the policy’s termination, could traumatize children for the rest of their lives.

“There are real long-term consequences in developing brains,” said Elaine Weisman, the program and training manager at International Social Service, USA. “There are going to be lasting effects on a generation of kids and young people.”

The federal court order ending child separation came around the same time ProPublica published leaked audio of immigrant children crying for their parents. While children were heard crying out, a border patrol agent is heard in the audio mocking them, saying, “we have an orchestra here.” The guard made the comment in Spanish, so the children could hear him.

While some children were kept in U.S. custody, they reported being sexually assaulted by guards. A USA Today report from February noted that more than 4,500 immigrant children reported being sexually assaulted between 2015 and 2019. However, the complaints of sexual assault rose sharply following the implementation of the zero tolerance policy, and thousands more unaccompanied children flooding into detention centers.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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