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Separating Families Causes Life-Long Trauma for Kids

The indigenous peoples of the U.S. were forced to relocate to Indian Territory after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830.

The removal and relocation policy toward Native peoples led to thousands of brown-skinned children and adults perishing on their forced march to Indian Territory.

Native peoples, my people, called this federally sponsored death march the Trail of Tears.

Based upon this legislation, U.S policy enhanced its attacks on Native peoples. In an attempt to “Americanize” Native Americans, the U.S government began instituting policies that were harmful to indigenous families.

The U.S. Training and Industrial School was founded in 1870, becoming the model for other schools across the country.

The concept was that if Native children were removed from their families, they could be cleansed of their “savage” impurities and instilled with “American” values.

Capt. Richard Pratt founded the first school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He coined the practice “kill the Indian to save the child.” He based this evil idea on colonial policies and practices toward African slaves.

At the turn of the 20th century, two little girls from the Muscogee Creek people were taken from their families and placed at one of these government facilities known as the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School.

Their names were Eloise and Ruby Boutinot. Eloise was my great-grandmother.

Under this “America First” philosophy, which really could be interpreted as “White America First,” the girls were stripped of their cultural identities.

Their hair was cut, they were forced to speak exclusively English and made to attend church service at least once a week.

If they spoke their native language or skipped church, they were whipped for their “misdeeds” by Christian missionaries funded by the federal government. Separated from their families, the girls were scared and traumatized.

This brings me to the circumstances unfolding at the U.S. southern border. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a zero-tolerance policy toward another brown-skinned people and that their children would be separated from their families.

While the situations regarding Native Americans and immigrants are different, there remains a commonalty concerning the long-term damages caused by separating children from their families’ causes.

Before we move forward, we need to understand the difference between an early situation under another administration and the current one.

When the previous children arrived at the border and were housed at the Texas detention center, they arrived alone fleeing from violence.

The current children arrived at the border with their parents. Another difference is that the current administration is strategically separating families as a deterrent for potential undocumented immigrants.

Attorney General Sessions went as far as evoking Romans 13 as justification for this new policy of separating families. Many theologians and faith leaders have condemned Sessions for his misapplication of the biblical text.

While the condemnation was much needed, there is something else at play besides theological malpractice. A modern-day trail of tears is underway.

The U.S. government, our government, is traumatizing children in an attempt to discourage future immigrants from entering the country.

Let that sink into your soul. The policies and procedures of the U.S. government are contributing to the trauma of innocent children.

Regardless of what one thinks about the guilt or innocence of their parents, these children are innocent victims being held in facilities that are detrimental to their cognitive and emotional futures.

Former First Lady Laura Bush commented, “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Comparing this situation to the Japanese internment camps during World War II, Bush argues this type of policy causes life-long damage to children.

Bush’s concerns about the negative impact on children must be central to reforming our nation’s immigration system and ceasing immediately the practice of separating children from parents at the border.

By separating children from their families and holding them in prison-like detention centers, we are exposing them to the possibility of developing a number of conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or reactive attachment disorder (RAD).

The Mayo Clinic defines RAD as follows, “Reactive attachment disorder is a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met, and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established.”

Did you catch that last part? “Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met, and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established.”

Again, this is different from other previous situations because those children arrived alone without families. These children arrive with their families and are being taken away by our government.

Do we really want to be part of a country that contributes to this type of trauma? Again, this is not about illegal activities of adults, but about U.S. policies and procedures that are inflicting trauma on innocent children.

There must be a better way.

While immigrants have been crossing the border for two centuries without documentation, the time has arrived for our government to figure out a better way to care for these children.

First, for those children who have parents in custody, separating them should never be the first consequence.

Second, for those children who are alone and without close U.S. relatives to care for them, these children should be placed in a home setting.

Third, people of faith need to step up to offer their homes and resources for these children.

Fourth, the government needs policies and procedures that place decency and humanity over political grandstanding.

As Jesus-followers seeking to promote and practice the common good, we must always remember the words of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:45).

Immigrant children are considered part of the Lord’s family. Therefore, we are responsible for their care.

Let us learn from our past mistakes and let’s do better! These children deserve love and support, just like our own children.

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @rmitchrandall.

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.