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Move to Treat Separation, Detention of Migrant Children as Child Abuse

A congressional investigation has found that nine migrant children younger than one year, and 18 younger than two years, have been forcibly separated from their families and held in detention. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Wikipedia

by Dan Heyman

EL PASO, Texas – Social workers and mental health professionals are trying to have the detention of migrant children away from their families treated as child abuse.

Almost 6,000 people have signed a petition started by social workers to file a “report of suspected abuse and neglect of migrant and refugee children” locked up by the U.S. government.

The administration of President Donald Trump describes the separation and detention policy as a “deterrent” to families entering the country.

But Fabiola Ekleberry, a counselor and psychotherapist in El Paso, says taking children from their parents is abusive, no matter the justification.

“This is abuse, what we’re doing,” she stresses. “This is not acceptable. It’s like telling a kid, ‘If you don’t listen to me, I’m going to beat you.’

“And the kid still does something and then you beat them up. But you know what kind of pain you’re going to inflict on them. That’s still abuse.”

Ekleberry says she is legally required to report it when anyone abuses a child.

More than 3,000 migrant children have been forcibly separated and, at least for a time, detained. The administration has admitted it has not tracked and will have trouble reuniting some of the families.

According to a recent congressional investigation, 18 infants and toddlers younger than two years old have been taken from their families. It found nine babies younger than one year old have been separated and detained.

Mark Lusk, a University of Texas at El Paso professor of social work, describes that as unconscionable. He says it could harm the children for life.

“It is particularly worrisome in the first and second year of life – creates separation anxiety, and confusion and anxiety in young children that is very, very hard to remediate,” he states. “It can’t be replaced by having other caregivers around. It’s very alarming that this has been going on.”

Lusk says the policy has been condemned by the American Pediatric Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, among others.

He says many counselors would like to meet with the children for free, but no one outside the system is allowed into the detention centers.

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