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US must find its moral voice after 'baby jails'

  • 28 June 2018


When US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a 'zero tolerance policy' for immigrants crossing the border illegally, it meant that everyone apprehended would be detained and prosecuted. If adults were crossing with their children, their children would be forcibly taken from them and sent to detention centers. Their quarters have been accurately described as cages.

After the cries of children screaming for their parents stirred at least the consciences of voters who respond to random sample polling, the president issued an executive order, temporarily halting the separation of families. It said nothing about reuniting those already separated.

Now a federal judge in California has issued a nationwide injunction stopping the practice of family separation, and ordering that all families be reunited within 30 days, and those with children under the age of five reunited within 14 days.

Despite the Office of Refugee Resettlement setting up a hotline for parents to call to find their children, some families are separated by thousands of miles and are given next to no information about each other's whereabouts. An immigration lawyer described one federal judge's reaction to The Washington Post:

'At one point, he slammed his hand on the desk, sending a pen flying. This type of emotional display is unheard of in federal court. "I can't understand this," the judge said. "If someone at the jail takes your wallet, they give you a receipt. They take your kids, and you get nothing? Not even a slip of paper?"'

In short, reuniting the families would be extremely difficult for a well-functioning government office that had been given clear directives — God help those charged with the task now.

Even if all of the families that have been coldly, clinically, 'legally' torn apart can be reunited, much of the damage done is likely irreparable. Social workers and scientists have spoken out on the permanent damage inflicted on children separated from their parents. But who will speak on the scar left on the national conscience?


"It is typical buck-passing that will allow the architects of this chaos to leave government and make millions as consultants, instead of spending the rest of their lives in prison."


'A chaotic circumstance of the government's own making,' was how that federal judge described the Trump administration's handling of immigration at the US-Mexico border.

We've heard stories of children being taken from a mother's breast while nursing, a 15-year-old boy running away from a Walmart-turned-child-prison back across Mexico to Honduras, detention centre