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April 10, 2020
by Tina Arnoldi

Family Separation at the Border: Who to Blame?

April 10, 2020 07:44 by Tina Arnoldi  [About the Author]

Photo by Metin Ozer on UnsplashMany immigrants hoping to resettle in the United States are fleeing from some kind of trauma. Unfortunately, trying to get into the country can result in new trauma as families are separated. According to human rights experts who performed psychological evaluations with immigrants, separation of families by immigration officials amounts to torture.

In an investigation, “You Will Never See Your Child Again: The Persistent Psychological Effects of Family Separation,” Physicians for Human Rights evaluated 17 adults and nine children from Central America who had been separated between 60 and 69 days. The report concluded the policy of family separation — which technically ended in the 2018 but continues today — “constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Those interviewed exhibited symptoms and behaviors consistent with trauma: confusion, constant worry, crying a lot, having difficulty sleeping and eating, nightmares, depression, overwhelming anxiety, panic, and despair.

William Wheeler, a Union Steward for ICE and CIS, empathizes with this separation, but believes families should apply for refugee status at the American Embassy in their country. “If their claims are founded,” said Wheeler, “they will get all the legal documents needed to enter the United States without separating the family. More importantly, they can travel to the United States legally without paying a smuggler to cross them through hostile territory. The truth is, the reason they are coming here as a family is that in the past, they would be allowed to enter the United States and they would be forgotten. Under Obama’s policies, illegals with low level criminal histories were to be ignored. In fact, his administration was rubber stamping legal status, despite not having the legal basis to do so. This is why this problem has exploded.”

David Reischer, Esq.Attorney & CEO of argues that even though the the government alleges that separations now only happen when a parent has a criminal history or is unfit to care for a child, this current policy still violates the rights of families crossing the border. Reischer says “It is not uncommon to have untrained border patrol agents that make decisions in children welfare, saying that a parent is unfit to stay with their children. Yet many border patrol agents do not have proper training and their decision is based typically only on a brief interaction while the family is held in custody.”

But Wheeler believes illegal immigration is also a problem because people are being exploited by numerous groups for financial gain. “I speak with Border Patrol Agents frequently,” said Wheeler, “and they tell me that the aliens coming to the border are being paid $500 and told to make the journey to the US. They often have scripts and are coached on how to circumvent the system. At times, the children they use are not their children and are recycled back and forth across the border. The reason that is important is that once the aliens are let into the United States, these various groups are paid tens of thousands of dollars for each alien by the US Government to provide various services.”

And Wheeler says that coming to the United States is not their only option. “If they are fleeing issues in their own country, they can certainly emigrate to any other country in the world. The United States simply does not have the capacity to accept every person who wishes to come here. As you can see, we can barely accommodate the people who are coming now. Asylum has very specific parameters, and the truth is, most of the people claiming asylum simply do not qualify. Wanting a better life, or a job, or fleeing domestic violence is not legal ground for asylum. In fact, generalized violence is not a basis for asylum either.”  

About the Author

Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi, MA is a marketing consultant and freelance writer in Charleston SC. Learn more about her and connect at

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