It turns out Trump's child separation policy was even more monstrous than we knew

Of all the harsh immigration policies the Trump administration has enacted, from slashing America's refugee resettlement program to building "The Wall," taking thousands of children away from their parents is by far the worst. The "zero tolerance" policy of separating families at the border drew so much international outrage that the administration eventually abandoned it and was ordered by the courts to reunite the families. In some cases, that process took far more than a year.

Now, an investigation shows that the implementation of the policy was even more inhumane than we knew.

According to the New York Times, five prosecuting attorneys who were told about the new policy in May of 2018 "recoiled" when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told them "We need to take away the children." The attorneys told officials in the Department of Justice that they were "deeply concerned" about the welfare of the children subject to that policy.

A week later, deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein told the prosecutors on a call that it didn't matter how young the children were. Government attorneys had apparently refused to prosecute two cases in which the children were barely more than infants, and it was made clear that they should not have done that.

"Per the A.G.'s policy, we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child," John Bash, the departing U.S. attorney in western Texas, wrote to his staff immediately after the call. Bash was the one who had declined the cases involving babies, but Rosenstein overruled him.


This information comes from a draft report of a two-years investigation by the DOJ's inspector general, which included more than 45 interviews with key officials in addition to emails and documents. Officials say the final report could change, but what was revealed is shocking, even for those who are familiar with the policy and its implementation.

ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt expressed his shock at the report on Twitter.

Among the revelations in the report:

- A secret pilot program in 2017 along the Mexico border in Texas alarmed government attorneys. "We have now heard of us taking breastfeeding defendant moms away from their infants," one government prosecutor wrote to his superiors. "I did not believe this until I looked at the duty log."

- Border Patrol was stretched so thin from the family separation prosecutions that they missed serious felony cases, with one Texas prosecutor warning the DOJ that "sex offenders were released" as a result.

- U.S. Marshals had no warning before the policy was announced, which led to overcrowding and budget overruns because there was not preparation for it.

- DOJ officials have long claimed that they thought children would be reunited with their parents within hours, but there was no actual plan in place to get families reunited. "We found no evidence, before or after receipt of the memorandum, that DOJ. leaders sought to expedite the process for completing sentencing in order to facilitate reunification of separated families," the inspector general wrote.

Reading the NTY report, when confronted with who was ultimately responsible for the welfare of the children and for reuniting the with their parents, the officials involved in the policy either refuse to comment or point fingers elsewhere. No one wants to be the one to say, "I'm the monster," and of course the individual ultimately responsible for all federal policy is the president himself.

In fact, according to the Times:

"Gene Hamilton, a top lawyer and ally of Stephen Miller, the architect of the president's assault on immigration, argued in a 32-page response that Justice Department officials merely took direction from the president. Mr. Hamilton cited an April 3, 2018, meeting with Mr. Sessions; the homeland security secretary at the time, Kirstjen Nielsen; and others in which the president 'ranted' and was on 'a tirade,' demanding as many prosecutions as possible."

When "Prosecute 'em all!" becomes the policy or even misdemeanor illegal entry cases of asylum-seekers crossing the border in an area other than a port of entry, and no one plans for the fallout, chaos is inevitable and children ultimately pay the price.

"The department's single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions came at the expense of careful and effective implementation of the policy, especially with regard to prosecution of family-unit adults and the resulting child separations," the draft report said.

And what of the Border Patrol agents charged with carrying out the assignment of taking babies out of their parents' arms? One of them spoke to PBS Frontline about what that was like:

Make no mistake—children were traumatized by this policy. How could they not be? And that cruelty was exactly the point. Our government decided that punishing parents by traumatizing children would be an effective deterrent for people trying to enter the U.S., no matter what their circumstances.

There are certain lines that we, as a civilized society, simply should not cross. Knowingly causing harm to children is one of those lines. And the U.S. not only crossed that line, but hurdled over it with Trump's "zero tolerance" policy. Our own "of the people, by the people" government deliberately hurting babies and children is what we should truly have zero tolerance for. Not in our name. Not our watch.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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