The trauma Donald Trump’s administration caused to parents and their young children separated at the US-Mexico border constitutes torture, according to a group of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Family separations cause mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The not-for-profit group’s findings provide the first in-depth look at the psychological impact of family separations, which the United States government continued despite warnings from the nation’s top medical bodies.
“As a clinician, nobody was prepared for this to happen on our home soil,” the report co-author Dr Ranit Mishori, senior medical adviser at PHR, told Canusim. “It is beyond shocking that this could happen in the US, by Americans, at the instruction of US government officials.”
Legal luminaries have argued family separations constituted torture, but this is the first time a medical body has reached the determination.
PHR volunteer psychiatrists evaluated Seventeen (17) adults and nine (9) children who had been separated between thirty (30) to ninety (90) days. Most met the requirements for at least one mental health condition, including post-traumatic stress disorders, major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorders “consistent with, and likely connected to, the trauma of family separation”, according to the findings.
Not only did the brutal family separation policy was responsible for trauma, but it was also intensified by the families’ previous experiences of violence on their journey to the US and in their home countries Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
All but two of the adults evaluated by PHR confirmed that they had received death threats in their home countries and fourteen (14) out of the Seventeen (17) adults said they were targeted by drug cartels. All were fearful their child would be killed or harmed if they remained at home.
Almost all the children had been kidnapped, drugged, poisoned or threatened by gangs before they left their home land. One mother disclosed to investigators she moved her daughter to different schools in El Salvador many times so gang members couldn’t find her and kill her.
In the face of these threats, parents tried to move out of their country, change their contact or phone numbers, meet extortion demands and go silent on social media. Ultimately, however, the report states : “Parents were confident that the journey to the US would result in protection for their children.”
This isn’t what happened at the borders.
The Trump administration brought a policy in April 2018 that formally enabled the mass separation of children and parent at the US-Mexico border. Trump abolished the policy in June 2018, but it has since been revealed that the administration separated thousands of families before and after the policy was in place.
There was also no system put in place to reunite the families, according to an internal government watchdog. The Trump administration also does not regard warnings from the nation’s leading medical groups that family separation would traumatize children and their parents.
People who experience trauma, especially in the past, have higher rates of medical conditions such as cancer and heart disease. They also have a high risk of psychiatric disorder and detrimental coping behaviours like alcohol and drug abuse.
“Something like that doesn’t just resolve once you are reunified with your parents, it’s something you carry with you for a very long time,” Mishori said.
One Honduran father described how badly his child reacted the many times a psychologist came to their home for treatment in the report: “Each time the son would refuse to cooperate with the therapists and infact would throw things at them… It appears his son was scared of strangers, or afraid they will take him away from his parents.”