The Havoc of the Zero Tolerance Policy
When you are a child, you understand little or nothing about immigration policy; all you know is that you need to be next to your parents, and normally your only occupation is to decide what to play with and/or attend school, however; that was not the story for more than two thousand children who were separated from their parents and families between October 2017 and May 2018 because of the so-called “Zero Tolerance” policy to prevent the illegal entry of immigrants.
In April 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, under Donald Trump’s administration, announced the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy at the U.S.-Mexico border; all immigrants who entered illegally were criminally prosecuted rather than charged with a misdemeanor as was done before. Those who took their children with them were separated, as the latter could not be charged with any crime.
The images of young children locked in what appeared to be cages shocked the world. Images of a girl as young as two, crying as they apprehended her mother (both of Honduran nationality), or a small child, crawling on the floor, locked up in a cage and separated from his parents.
And while there has been talk about the political consequences of applying the zero-tolerance policy and the bad image it has given to political figures, few have stopped to wonder how it has affected children that have suffered it.
According to specialists, children at an early age suffer from separation anxiety, an emotional response in which they experience distress when physically separated from the person they are emotionally linked to, usually their parents. Separation anxiety disorder can result in frequent psychiatric episodes, which later, as children grow up, may increase the risk of anxious and depressive disorders.
What happened to Zero Tolerance?
After considering that the Zero-Tolerance policy represented a violation of human rights and increased national and international pressure, in June 2018, President Trump signed an order revoking it to stop separating parents and children. This was two months after the policy was announced; however, many families had already been harmed, as it was revealed that the government had been separating families a year earlier as part of a zero-tolerance policy pilot program.
Following a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a court in San Diego ordered in June 2018 that children be reunited with their families within 30 days. Hundreds of families were reunited; however, this order did not contemplate the pilot program that had started a year earlier and had already separated just over a thousand families. According to the ACLU, more than 600 children are still separated from their parents as of October of this year, children who were removed from their parents two years ago.
Due to the pandemic caused by Covid-19, the search for parents who were deported to their home country has become more difficult, if not impossible. There is currently a campaign to locate parents that includes advertisements on radio and motorcycle trips to rural communities mainly in Guatemala and Honduras to look for the parents.
At the time of printing this article, president-elect Joe Biden has promised to create a special team during the first 100 days of his administration to reunite these children with their parents.