Law & Courts

Teachers Condemn Family Separations at the Border as ‘Child Abuse’

By Sarah Schwartz — June 19, 2018 4 min read
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As the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents from children at the border has sparked outrage across the country, teachers are speaking out and joining nationwide protests.

Under the administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy, in which all cases of illegal entry are referred for criminal prosecution, 2,342 children have been separated from their parents and detained in holding centers since early May, the Department of Homeland Security told reporters today.

News reports from the detention centers describe teenagers and young children, some under the age of 5, held in what the AP has described as cages built from chain-link fencing.

Research has shown that separating children from their caregivers, especially at a very early age, causes toxic stress that can have lasting effects on the body and the brain.

Over the past few weeks, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements opposing the policy, saying that family separation causes permanent and serious harm to children’s health.

A petition organized by psychiatrists, social workers, and other counselors had more than 15,000 signatures as of Tuesday. The authors of the petition, who know through research and clinical experience the developmental consequences of traumatic stress, wrote that they feel a responsibility to alert the public and appeal to the Trump administration.

On Twitter, some educators are saying the same. One teacher wrote that she has worked with students who have experienced trauma, and she knows the challenges that children who have been through these circumstances will face.

Others have said that the family separations and the conditions inside the detention centers qualify as child abuse. Teachers are mandated reporters, and are required to report suspected abuse of children in their care to the appropriate authorities—some teachers said these conditions constituted violations they would have to report in any other situation.

Teachers have also been among the thousands who have taken to the streets in protest of these policies. At the Families Belong Together Rally in Los Angeles, one of almost two dozen protests that took place around the country on June 14, many protesters were teachers in the Los Angeles public school system, the New York Times reported.

“They can’t focus on school or the future if we just take out the welcome mat,” Elizabeth Kenoff, a special education teacher, told the Times at the rally.

Another California teacher, Elizabeth Osborne, drove more than 200 miles to protest for the day on Monday outside of a detention center in El Cajon—the same facility that Rep. Nancy Pelosi had toured earlier that day.

She told local news station KEYT that current policies remind her of historical events she’s taught, including the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

“I just don’t think we should repeat that,” she said.

Other educators have said the new border policy is reminiscent of other state-sanctioned family separations throughout American history.

On Twitter, Django Paris, an associate professor of language and literacy in the college of education at Michigan State University, noted the similarities to the federal government’s Native American boarding schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These schools separated parents from their children, often against their will, and attempted to force students to abandon their cultural heritage.

Photo: In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who’ve been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, on June 17. —U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.