The Associated Press and PBS Frontline reported that 69,550 migrant children were held in detention facilities in 2019, according to data released by the government. That's enough to fill a football stadium past capacity. No other country in the world detains children in that numbers, and the government has admitted that the experience traumatizes the children in their care.
Since being taken from their parents, some of the kids are repatriated to their country of origin, some are placed with their families, and some have even been taken into foster care. There are still 4,000 migrant children still in custody and their numbers are growing every day. The nearly 70,000 migrant children who were held in government custody this year — up 42 percent in fiscal year 2019 from 2018 — spent more time in shelters and away from their families than in prior years. And it has a serious emotional cost. Young children are particularly susceptible to trauma because their brains are still developing.
“Early experiences are literally built into our brains and bodies,” says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, who directs Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. Earlier this year, he told Congress that “decades of peer-reviewed research” shows that detaining kids away from parents or primary caregivers is bad for their health. It’s a brain-wiring issue, he said. “Stable and responsive relationships promote healthy brain architecture,” Shonkoff said. “If these relationships are disrupted, young children are hit by the double whammy of a brain that is deprived of the positive stimulation it needs, and assaulted by a stress response that disrupts its developing circuitry.”
The PBS reporting focuses on a Honduran father who was separated from his daughter at the border. The daughter was abused in detainment and foster care.
"I think about this trauma staying with her too, because the trauma has remained with me and still hasn't faded," the father told AP. The 3-year-old Honduran girl was taken from her father when immigration officials caught them near the border in Texas in March 2019 and sent her to government-funded foster care. The father had no idea where his daughter was for three panicked weeks. It was another month before a caregiver put her on the phone but the girl, who turned four in government custody, refused to speak, screaming in anger."She said that I had left her alone and she was crying," said her father during an interview with the AP and Frontline at their home in Honduras. "'I don't love you Daddy, you left me alone,'" she told him. The father agreed to speak about their case on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
"Thousands have been traumatized, ripped away from their families, and at least six children have died preventable deaths in custody—all while the government lawyers argued they weren't worthy of soap or toothbrushes," Families Belong Together chair Jess Morales Rocketto said in a statement. "They cannot be trusted with the welfare of children and families—Congress must act to end these abuses immediately."