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The Psychological Horrors of Family Separation

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

It has been 53 days since July 26th, the date on which separated families at the border were supposed to be reunited. So, why are we still talking about it?  

Despite the myriad of promises from the Trump White House about reuniting these families, many still remain apart, wondering if they will see their loved ones ever again.

The backlash sparked by the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance Policy” and the forced parting of parents and children garnered national attention and outrage. It seemed that wherever you looked, you couldn’t help but see some mention of children being put into cages, screaming and crying for their parents. Horrific reports of abuse and mistreatment in detention centers and harrowing depictions of children forced to defend themselves in courts of law emerged as the summer went on. But, as time dragged on and the sensationalism of the story disappeared, so did the outrage.

The articles and anger can still be found, but they are few and far between. Without the considerable weight of the American public, I wonder if the current administration will make good on its promise to reunite all families.

Even if all those separated are returned to each other, the consequences of the current administration’s actions will live long beyond the policy and anger it sparked. Videos of children who no longer trust their parents, believing they gave them up and sent them away to the detention centers, have gone viral. But those feelings can’t last long, right?

Charles Nelson, a pediatric professor at the Harvard Medical School, has done extensive research on the effects of long term separation on children’s brains. Citing research based off a 2000 study done in Romania, Nelson and his colleagues found disturbing differences in the brains of children separated from their families compared to the brains of those who had not been separated.

Children separated from their families at a young age had “much less white….and gray matter,” the fibers that transmit information throughout our bodies, as well as the brain-cells that process and solve problems. Nelson compares the brain to a lightbulb saying: “it’s as though there was a dimmer that had reduced [their brains] from a 100-watt bulb to 30 watts.” These children scored lower on IQ tests, and seemed unable to react to stress. Simply put, our brain cells do not regrow and repair the damaged areas in the same way that the rest of our body does.

Why does the brain begin to malfunction? Contact is incredibly important to us as humans–we literally need to touch and have skin-to-skin contact with other humans in order grow and thrive. The sense of safety and comfort that comes from our families supports this, allowing us to grow emotionally, physically, and mentally. Children separated from a young age lose this sense of security, and their brain develops differently. According to Lisa Fortuna, the medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center, “the part of the brain that sorts things into safe or dangerous does not work…things that are not threatening seem threatening.

These consequences are seen not only in the immigration populations in the US, but also in children separated from their parents due to divorce, foster care, death, or any other extreme scenario that forces family separation. According to Susan Hois, a Child Developmental Specialist, family separation causes slower development of linguistic abilities and higher anxiety and depression rates. The loss of control and general feeling of helplessness makes children more likely to act in ways detrimental to both themselves and others. PTSD is also more likely to form in children who have been separated from their parents–the younger the child and the longer the separation, the more likely an extreme reaction.

It has been 53 days since all the families were supposed to be reunited. The longer that the current administration waits to reunite families, the more likely the mental strain on these innocent children. The long term effects of these actions will have a profound impact on our society, especially concerning we have created a generation that has grown up with these traumatic memories. The Trump administration has ensured a legacy that will long outlive their time in the White House–the psychological effects produced by the separations will take a lifetime to undo, if not more.

 

The Constitutional Argument for Sanctuary Cities

in Contemporary Politics/Political Issues by

Imagine you have two undocumented immigrants who enter the country and settle down in a certain city. One of them, a 27 old male named Joseph, illegally entered the country seeking a no skill needed minimum wage job to support himself and his family back home. Unable to find a secure job in his hometown, he emigrated to the states in hopes of finding a stable source of income. The other is a 24 year old female named Jane who came to the US illegally in an effort to escape government corruption in her home country. Anyways, last week, Joseph was pulled over for a traffic violation and was brought into the local police station because he did not have a valid driver’s license. He was identified in the federal database and ICE was alerted. Also that week, Jane was arrested for theft and was similarly identified in the federal database; ICE was alerted. Under federal law, both these people should be detained and deported back to their home countries. However, it’s entirely unjust that a man who was charged with a harmless traffic violation receives the same penalty as the woman who committed a felony. Some cities today back this idea, calling themselves sanctuary cities, and choose to only honor federal immigration law to a certain degree. While the federal government and the Trump administration seems to target these sanctuary cities because they interfere with the larger scheme of mass deportation, municipal governments in these cities choose to not help with the enforcement of federal law.

This presents us with a conflict of interests. On one hand, the federal government is strictly pushing for the defunding of these sanctuary cities, while select municipal governments fight for their right to be free of federal control. So who should have the final say?

The constitution declares that the power ultimately falls to the state — or a city — under the 10th amendment. Author Ilya Somin of The Washington Post supports this claim in his article, “Trump Can’t Stop the Sanctuary Movement,” stating that regardless of the federal government’s pressure on a municipal government, the city is free to carry on with their plans (without facing consequences from the federal government). He cites a Supreme Court case, New York v. United States, to show that rulings have been made saying that it is illegal for federal governments to take control of state governments in order to execute their will. He continues to suggest that, although Trump’s threats of defunding of sanctuary cities may seem looming, they are in fact much more harmless because the federal government does not have the ability to simply cut off funding because they disagree with a state’s views.

His claims appear to be generally unbiased and well-supported, but lean more toward support of the state’s ability to execute their will over the requests of the federal government. He acknowledges the argument toward federal powers having the final say over the matter, but argues against it with constitutional support and relevant court rulings.

Furthermore, although Somin’s argument is structured around the theoretical inability of the federal government to interfere with state affairs, another article published by The New York Times examines a specific case: Trump’s attempted interference in the sanctuary city movement. Author Peter Markowitz discusses the Justice Department’s lawsuit against California, which is centered against 3 California laws that basically outline their sanctuary laws. He says the case is based off a similar case in which Arizona changed their legislation to one that did not require state police to aid federal efforts to enforce immigration laws. The lawsuit against California mirrors that lawsuit; if Arizona is not allowed to interfere in federal immigration enforcement, California shouldn’t either. He argues that California is not impeding federal enforcement of immigration laws, but simply taking themselves out of the equation, which he believes to be absolutely legal.

The choice to integrate sanctuary laws into state or municipal legislation falls outside the realm of the federal government. Pursuant to the 10th amendment, any power not enumerated to the federal government becomes the power of the state. Although immigration overall is a federal power, the federal government should be only able to use their resources to enforce its policies, not those of the individual states. The resources of the state should be utilized in enforcing the law of the state, rather than being at the hands of the federal government. If we allow for the federal government to interfere with matters that are clearly under the jurisdiction of the state, what will stop them from expanding their power from restrictions on sanctuary cities to a multitude of federal interests?  

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/opinion/trump-california-sanctuary-movement.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/11/26/federalism-the-constitution-and-sanctuary-cities/?utm_term=.a23e9144eb4b

 

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