Children in Cages — the Real Legacy of the Trump Presidency

By Lieutenant General (Ret) Charles Roadman, Major General (Ret) Gale Pollock, Rear Admiral (Ret) Boris Lushniak, and Rear Admiral (Ret) Michael Mittelman

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photo credit: Max Pixel

We are retired Admirals and Generals in the U.S. uniformed services who, as physicians, nurses, and medical scientists, provided health care to children and adults during our many years of public service. While immigration policies are within the purview of legal disciplines, the issues of the psychological abuse and medical neglect of detained immigrant children, compounded by the surging COVID-19 pandemic, are within our purview, as are the short and long-term health consequences of these actions.

On June 26, Federal Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the release of the remaining 124 children in three U.S. family detentions run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The judge’s order denounced the Trump Administration’s prolonged detention of immigrant families in close quarters during the COVID-19 pandemic and included phrases like “hotbed of contagion” and ICE facilities being “on fire” because of the spread of COVID-19 within them.

More than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, ICE detainees and employees alike, have been diagnosed. Given the COVID-19 infection rates in the neighboring counties, there is “…even more cause for concern.” Unfortunately, the order did not specifically require that parents be released with their children so that the ICE has “apparently decided to keep families locked up together in unsafe conditions or ask parents to separate from their children.”

As of January 18 of this year, 4,367 children have been separated from their families. Recent confirmed reports indicate that a meeting of senior administration officials in May 2018, by a show of hands, voted to separate these children from parents without legal or moral regard. And now we learn that the U.S. Government cannot locate the parents of 545 children in U.S. detention. This is outrageous.

It is indisputable that detention of children causes lasting damage to development and psyche. Peer-reviewed journals have described prolonged adverse medical and psychological effects of short and long-term detention upon children. Organizations behind these reports include the American Academy of Pediatrics, Physicians for Human Rights, National Immigrant Justice Center, United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the ACLU Border Litigation Project. Detention of immigrant children cannot be justified solely because of migration status. And it is unconscionable that children be subjected to punitive measures because of their parents’ migration status.

Reports have spelled out mistreatment and abuse of children by rogue ICE officers ranging from verbal to physical to alleged sexual abuses. Reports include forcible separation from breast-feeding defendant mothers, denying infants diapers, withholding asthma medication by stating a child was “faking it,” confiscating and not returning personal belongings, making racially-charged insults and death threats, violently strip-searching and shackling 13–14 year-old children in three point restraints, squalid living conditions lacking essential necessities (beds, food and water), open toilets, constant light exposure, lack of legal counsel, detainees in wet clothing in freezers, rationing food without essential nutrients and making toilet water the only available drinking water. Abuse also includes ICE officers preventing physicians from providing medically necessary care to 5-month old babies or coercing physicians into “clearing children” for forced returns.

Recent medical studies from the Mount Sinai Medical Center report that of 425 children observed and interviewed at an ICE Detention Center, 44 percent, almost half, demonstrated one or more significant emotional or behavioral symptoms, including PTSD, compared to community-based children — much due, in part, to their separation from their parents.

These horrific and inhumane acts by supposedly civilized, sworn-to-serve public servants have gone unchecked and have been condoned at the highest levels through silence and lack of corrective actions. Published studies have shown such inhumane actions have long-term, permanent effects scarring the psychological make-up of abused children after their release. These children already have psychologic deterioration from pre-migratory abuses such as abject poverty and home country persecution and violence. The added rogue ICE abuse re-victimizes these children and further damages their personas in formable periods of mental growth and psychologic development. These children’s full physical and psychologic recovery is questionable at best.

America needs a President who can lead humane, meaningful, bipartisan immigration reform. America needs a Commander-in-Chief who will unite a national charge against victimization, such as that of defenseless immigrant children. America needs a new leader who supports social services and reformed law enforcement practices to increase protections, self-confidence, and self-esteem of these victims.

America’s citizens, and immigrant children, deserve much better than our current president.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General (Retired) Charles Roadman is a former Surgeon General; Major General (Retired) Gale Pollock is a former Acting Surgeon General; Rear Admiral (Retired) Boris Lushniak is a former U.S. Acting Surgeon General; and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Retired) Michael Mittelman is a former Deputy Surgeon General.

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