The past week has been eye-opening for the public, especially residents of the United States, in terms of understanding the complex effects of immigration on children and families. The media has been saturated with stories and images of children and families forced to separate at the US border because of the government’s cold-blooded migration policies. In just six weeks, over 2000 children and babies have been separated from their families. In many cases, parents and children have gone weeks without speaking to or seeing each other.
The public's reaction to children being separated from their families grew exponentially almost over the span of a few hours. Thousands of people from all over the world, including President Trump's fellow Republicans, strongly condemned the government's actions. And on Wednesday, June 20th, President Trump caved to public pressure and signed an executive order to end the practice of separating families at the border.
The US Government announced the “zero-tolerance” policy in May, aiming to significantly decrease the flow of immigrants from Central American countries. In short, the policy coming into effect means that everyone who enters the United States illegally will be prosecuted. Previously, people caught entering the country illegally were deported but didn't face criminal charges, and they definitely weren’t separated from their children.
With the "zero tolerance" policy pre-executive order, children and parents who were arrested entering the country illegally became separate legal cases that go down different bureaucratic rabbit holes. Legal experts claimed that reuniting families could take months and in some cases, where the parent has been deported without their child, it could become nearly impossible.
In their effort to discourage people from immigrating to the country and to keep them away from the borders, the US Government outright tried to use children as collateral. After visiting a Texas shelter for migrant children under 12, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr Coleen Kraft argued that the treatment of these children is “government sanctioned child abuse.”
However, the world refused to turn a blind eye to this violation of children's and human rights. The public outcry caused enormous political pressure and the White House caved.
This is an important win for the families, yet, it's only the tip of the iceberg. The executive order, first of all, does nothing to reunite the 2300 children who are already separated from their families. These children are left by themselves, waiting, in the unpredictable system. Secondly, the order doesn't change anything about the harsh conditions of the "zero-tolerance" policy. People, children, are still prosecuted upon entering the US; they are still put in cages, only this time with their families.
If anything, the incredibly fast pace of this whole situation is a testimony to the power of individual and collective action against injustice. Every person who tweeted, who called their senators, who donated to charities working for immigrants has a role in President Trump signing the executive order. Yet, we still have a lot more to do. If you want to know what you can do, here are four organizations that are working hard to protect children and immigrants' rights:
- KIND, Kids In Need of Defense, provides legal aid to unaccompanied children in North and Central America
- ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, has been fighting for individual rights and liberties — including immigrants’ rights — in the US for almost 100 years
- Women’s Refugee Commission protects the rights of displaced women, children and youth
- The Young Center specifically works with immigrant children, ensuring they are supported and safe
© Header image: Associated Press/Evan Vucci