Emotional Health

Incalculable Damage:
Separating Children and Parents Is the Equivalent of Psychological Torture

Children who are separated from the parents suffer harm even under the best of circumstances. Those whose parents are ill or away for long periods can tolerate it depending on the quality of care and the closeness they have to their other parent. Usually, the worse the circumstances are during the separation, the worse the outcome.

The circumstances of the children who have been put in these “shelters” could hardly be more negative. In fact, if someone designed an experiment to test the theory of adverse childhood experiences they might come up with something like this. Forcibly taken from their sobbing parents under conditions they don’t understand, alone in a foreign country where they probably don’t know the language, and with no idea of what will happen and little capacity to understand what is going on with them or their parents, this policy amounts to trauma that is the psychological equivalent not just of abuse, but of torture.

The enforced separation policy also directly creates the third type of adverse experience: family dysfunction. Immediately, three of the major types of dysfunction are set in motion:

  1. Incarcerated relative
  2. Mother treated violently
  3. Divorce or separation

In this case, the aspects of divorce that have been found to be the most harmful, lack of contact with a parent, are reproduced in a devastating way. Most children in a marital divorce retain contact with one loving relative, which can mitigate a lot of the damage. These kids have lost everything, and being in an unknown place with strangers makes it all the more frightening.

The  defenders of this policy say that the situation is short-term and the families will be reunited. But the effects of psychological trauma can last years, even a lifetime. And the other two major types of family dysfunction, mental illness and substance abuse, are possible consequences for these children’s parents, for whom coming here was a last hope. In addition, we can be certain that we are not going to be providing mental health resources to help these families. We don’t even do that for our own citizens in any consistent or reliable way.

But these people had hope that their lives would be improved by coming to the United States. That has been the outcome for millions of people who have come here, legally and illegally, and is an essential part of the history and foundation of this country.

Instead these immigrants are being incarcerated and tortured. And it is not just the children who are being tormented. Any parent who has been separated from a child knows the devastating pain it causes. And the less control they have over the situation surrounding the separation, the more painful it is for the parents.

In addition, these parents are likely to be suffering guilt. They made a decision, thinking it would improve their children’s lives, which has had a disastrous outcome. What was their mistake? They believed in the United States: : A land of freedom and refuge. That’s not the country we live in today. It is a tragedy for everyone .



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  • Etta June 21, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    I had no idea that this was printed. I had just unplugged my phone from charging and came upon it. And I can’t tell you how glad I did!
    Why? Because literally every word printed here I totally agree with, so much that I find myself worrying about these children.
    Thank you sooo much for voicing my feelings!

  • Chris Tirpak June 21, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    I’m confused; why are the parents not taking their children with them?

    • Etta June 21, 2018 at 6:29 pm

      Because, based on my understanding, the children were born here. So they’re citizens.