By Samuel Paramore
Every day at my work, I’m able to see the close relationships between parents and children. The kids being held by parents who wouldn’t wish for any other child is the way it should be, a healthy bond for all. Without that, children lose important developmental benchmarks, such as trust of others, the ability to keep close connections, and a consistent sense of well-being. But as I observe, I can’t help but be hounded by a terrifying thought in the back of my head.
What would they be like today separated from each other, and caged away from the world?
This isn’t a thought that seems to give the Trump Administration much pause. The mission to keep locking up undocumented children as an unofficial deterrent is still in play despite recent backtracking on such policies. The latest development in this morally repugnant push is to try to free itself from Reno v. Flores, a settlement agreement case in 1997 holding that unaccompanied minors should be released to a willing relative or guardian in the quickest time possible, that if minors are held it must be in the “least restrictive conditions,” and, if accompanied by parents, they can’t be held for more than 20 days.
The only way under and around this settlement is to implement its standards into federal mandate, or to find legal loopholes such as trying the children in the 20-day period–which, at one point, President Barrack Obama attempted. It didn’t turn out pretty as eligible asylum cases were being shot down because of the head-spinning pace of the litigation process brought to immigration lawyers and judges alike.
Now, regardless of the fact that the Trump Administration will be unlikely to undo the protections offered by Flores–as his only option is to take it to court and the court he’ll most likely get is the Ninth Circuit–we still need to talk about how harmful and even ignored the Flores precedent still is. The healthy developments children get from loving interactions with parents can be stunted by 20 days in an oppressive environment such as a shelter or detention center. As a recent ProPublica article detailed, the psychological effects of separation and detainment are deep and scarring. After 20 days, many minors come out depressed, unable to cope with the isolating lack of familial warmth and comfort found inside detention centers.
Non-profit shelters, who rake in billions for housing traumatized children, are considered appropriate guardians by Flores, a suitable replacement for detained immigrant parents. As Flores still allows for a parent to be locked up while the child remains free, we must advance beyond it. The happiness found in early connections between parents and children may be lost and near impossible to regain in later life.