Family Separation Is Torture, According to Physicians for Human Rights

Family Separation Is Torture, According to Physicians for Human Rights

Family Separation Is Torture, According to Physicians for Human Rights

According to a new report by PHR, the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum seekers “constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”


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The Signal this week—and probably for many weeks to come—is the relentless global spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, and the accompanying economic panic that is threatening to take down global stock markets and tank entire industries. The Noise is the incoherent mix of boosterism and skepticism about scientific expertise emanating from the White House.

Another Signal is the almost equally relentless march of xenophobic politics. With fear of outsiders intensifying as the coronavirus pandemic gathers pace, it’s likely that Trump’s brutal anti-immigrant policies—which a new report says amounts to torture—will only pick up steam.

Just this past week, SWAT teams and snatch squads were deployed in sanctuary cities to surveil immigrant targets in their homes and workplaces, locking into place siege practices against immigrants who refuse to open their doors when ICE comes a-knockin’.

This move was announced on the heels of the decision to deploy elite Border Patrol Tactical units—trained to operate against drug cartels in the most violent areas along the border—in urban neighborhoods to ratchet up the pressure on undocumented families. A family in the Bronx recently took a photograph through their peephole of an assault-rifle-toting ICE officer going door to door in their apartment building.

The BBC and other news outlets recently reported the case of a blind man in Illinois who failed his citizenship test after officers asked him to read text that he couldn’t see—and refused to offer him Braille as an alternative. You can’t make this stuff up.

News also broke that, next month, the Trump administration will begin forcibly collecting DNA from immigrant detainees, thus building a vast database of genetic information about these men, women, and children.

And Physicians for Human Rights recently released a study documenting the extensive psychological impact of the family separation policy, which PHR says is tantamount to torture. It found that most of the parents and children who had been directly affected “met diagnostic criteria for at least one mental health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder consistent with, and likely linked to, the trauma of family separation.”

The report is worth quoting at length and disseminating widely, so that no one can subsequently say they didn’t know what was happening:

Parents reported that immigration authorities forcibly removed children from their parents’ arms, removed parents while their children slept, or simply “disappeared” the children while their parents were in court rooms or receiving medical care. Almost all reported that immigration authorities failed to provide any explanation as to why they were being separated, where their family members were being sent, and if or how they would be reunited. In addition, the asylum narratives documented instances of four parents who were taunted and mocked by immigration authorities when asking for the whereabouts of their children.

This isn’t the America of Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty. This is something ghastly, cruel, utterly lacking in empathy. It is the politics of the iron fist and the jackboot, visited upon some of the poorest and most desperate people in the hemisphere.

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