Migrant kids who were finally reunited with their families after months of separation due to the Trump administration’s malicious “zero tolerance” policy, are showing signs of disturbing and lasting trauma.
For these young children, living in detention centers without their parents was hard enough. However, several reports showed the kind of treatment minors was subjected to left such an indelible impact on them that they stopped acting like who they are — kids.
For instance, a Brazilian woman identified as Ana Carolina Fernandes, who was apprehended by Border Patrol in late May, was separated from her 5-year-old son, Thiago, for 50 days.
After being reunited, the mother told the New York Times about several disturbing changes in her child’s behavior.
No longer did Thiago liked playing with the Minion characters from the “Despicable Me” movies. Instead, his favorite game was now pretending to be immigration officers patting down and shackling “migrants” with plastic cuffs.
When they first got home after 50 days, Thiago asked his mother to be breast-fed. Fernandes hadn’t nursed him in years.
“He’s been like that since I got him back,” she said. “He doesn’t want to talk to anyone.”
Thiago also appeared afraid of people he didn’t recognize immediately. Fernandes said when visitors showed up at the family’s new home in Philadelphia, he crouched behind the sofa.
According to the immigrant advocates and lawyers working at the detention centers, children released to their parents were exhibiting signs of various mental health issues including “anxiety, introversion and regression.”
“Our volunteers are seeing the significant and real toll that these traumatic separations have had on these children’s and these families’ lives, which persist even after reunification,” said Joanna Franchini, who is coordinating a national network of volunteers working with migrant children and their parents called Together & Free.
Another 3-year-old boy, who was also reunited with his family recently, pretended to vaccinate and handcuff people around him, a practice he must have observed while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Immigrant activists gave details about other harrowing instances where some children suffered acute anxiety when briefly separated from their parents. Such kids have reportedly become clingy, withdrawn and just terrified of being alone.
“These kids don’t want to be without their mothers; it triggers a feeling of abandonment, or that their mother will be taken away from them,” said LuanaBiagini, a paralegal who has been working with reunited Brazilian families.
“I have mothers complaining that their child was more outgoing and talkative, and now they are quiet and unresponsive. Some take a while to process information or a situation, and Mom has to say, ‘Hey, hey wake up,’’’ she added.
The fact that in many cases children appeared to have been duped that they were being taken to play with other children, but in real were never returned to the parents, just goes to show how agonizing it must be for kids to stay in a constant state of limbo for weeks. Also,the chances are they started to believe their parents abandoned them or they were being punished for something they did, experts said.
“There is no greater threat to a child’s emotional well-being than being separated from a primary caregiver. Even if it was for a short period, for a child, that’s an eternity,” said Johanna Bick, a psychology professor at the University of Houstonm who studies adverse experiences in childhood.
In the cases reported earlier, some of the migrant children were unable to recognize their parents after months of separation.
All these signs are indicative of a tragic repercussions of such forceful separations, which was bound to take a toll on children’s mental health, their memory and just their personalities overall.
Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Loren Elliott