Family Separation: A Tool of Torture


“A body tells the truth. Not always, not the first time; but it is always the body that speaks. The torturers know this very well, or think they know it very well.”

This quotation from a book compiled by Natividad Corral seems to me central in symbolizing what is happening to hundreds of girls and boys in U.S. immigration centers, where they were detained after entering the United States with an adult member of their family, usually a father or mother.

A decision will have to be made about bringing a case for torture before an international court.

It gives me chills to imagine the fear and sadness that has settled in those young bodies, now locked up and separated from their parents for a long time, but permanently abandoned and rejected by both their own country and the country of destination. And it triggers the worst example of human shame: the mistreatment of children and adolescents by countries and society.

I imagine what a girl or boy feels when they are forcefully separated from their parents. I think of their nights, their nightmares, their silences, their confinement and crowded living conditions, I think of when they believed they were migrating to free themselves from the violence and limitations they experienced in their own countries. And I think of the parents who prefer this life for them, instead of seeing them return to the violence and insecurity of their own countries.

In recent news, several attorneys were subpoenaed by a federal judge in an attempt to identify the families who have been separated during the Trump administration. The lawyers stated that they have not yet begun to search for the parents of at least 545 children, and they believe that two-thirds of them were deported to Central America without their children. According to the same news report, it is much more difficult for children under 12 to provide information identifying their relatives. This leaves the most vulnerable even more alone.

The Trump administration instituted a zero tolerance policy in 2018, which promoted the separation of migrant children from their parents on the southern U.S. border — a policy clearly operationalizing a mechanism of torture for hundreds of families, especially for the youngest and most vulnerable of these migrant family units. The same Trump administration would later confirm that this began with the separation of families in 2017 in a pilot program designed for this purpose.

More than 1,000 parents who were separated from their children during that pilot program were deported to Central America before a federal judge ordered a number of organizations and law firms to search for members of the separated families. It is for this group — more than 545 boys and girls — that the search for families continues. This was not the case with the 2,800 families separated under the zero tolerance program in 2018, many of whom remain in custody.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, it is important to determine who is responsible for the atrocious negligence of failing to search for members of the families who still remain separated. And when will they find them? Many wonder. No one knows. How is it that when today’s technology allows us to find anyone in the darkest corners of the world, it doesn’t allow us to find the families of these children who remain in immigration centers or with foster families?

The zero tolerance policy instituted by Donald Trump with the permission of banana republics, continues to draw much criticism, within and outside of the United States. Most of the families were from Central America and were fleeing poverty and violence. They were not criminals, nor were the millions of European migrants who came to this continent in centuries past without having a cent. It will be necessary to decide about bringing a case for torture before an international court, which would at the very least restore the right to justice deserved by every human being.

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About Patricia Simoni 186 Articles
I began contributing to Watching America in 2009 and continue to enjoy working with its dedicated translators and editors. Latin America, where I lived and worked for over four years, is of special interest to me. Presently a retiree, I live in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I enjoy the beauty of this rural state and traditional Appalachian fiddling with friends. Working toward the mission of WA, to help those in the U.S. see ourselves as others see us, gives me a sense of purpose.

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