Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein

Originially published in Medium.

Mirian and her 18-month-old son fled violence in Honduras to seek asylum in the United States.

However, upon arriving here, Mirian described in court filings that Department of Homeland Security officials forced her to give up her son, who was driven away before she could comfort him.

Another mother and her two sons, ages 10 and 4, fled violence in El Salvador. After being apprehended by Customs and Border Protection, this family was given five minutes before the crying boys were taken from their mother. She has been held in the Laredo Detention Center for three months and doesn’t know the exact location of her of children.

A third mother and her 7-year-old daughter fled ethnic violence and potential civil war in Congo. The mother described hearing her daughter screaming in the next room when they were separated four days after arriving in the United States. Her daughter was sent to Chicago, thousands of miles away. They were separated for four months and spoke only a few times before being reunited.

These families were separated due to a barbaric new Trump administration policy conceived in a cruel effort to deter those seeking asylum and better lives from coming to the United States.

While cases of family separation had been documented in the past year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the policy official last month, announcing that all adults who arrive at the border would be prosecuted for illegal entry.

This policy, which has never been federal policy, has resulted in hundreds of children being taken from their parents. This is a low point that I never thought I’d see in the United States of America. Candidly, I find it revolting.

While President Trump has sought to blame this policy on Democrats, that’s a lie. This is a Trump policy, plain and simple.

In a stunning move, the administration says it will prosecute adults even if they attempt to seek asylum at a port of entry. These individuals aren’t sneaking into the country, they’re arriving at border crossings to seek asylum, and Donald Trump wants to prosecute them. It’s a shocking break from past policy.

Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum, rather than allowing them to go through the established asylum process, may violate U.S. obligations under international law, including the U.N. convention on refugees.

Although President Trump’s new policy has been officially implemented for just one month, the effect has been swift and many families have been torn apart.

At a May 24, 2018, hearing, Customs and Border Protection informed the Judiciary Committee that 658 children were taken from 638 parents during a 14-day period in May, an average of 47 children being taken from their parents each day.

Children are now waking up terrified in detention centers surrounded by strangers. Their parents aren’t able to comfort them because they’re potentially hundreds or thousands of miles away.

The U.S. government is putting young children through hell, a trauma that could scar them for life.

To put an end to this immoral policy, we’ve introduced a bill that would keep immigrant families together by preventing DHS from taking children from their parents at the border.

To ensure the bill protects the welfare of children, it allows children to be separated from their parents only in the event they are being trafficked or abused by their parents.

As an additional safeguard, the bill provides for an immediate review by a superior and child welfare specialist upon the recommendation to separate.

In the event that parents are separated from their children, DHS would be required to establish policies and procedures in parents’ native language to ensure they are able to locate and reunite with their children.

Congress has a moral obligation to take a stand and say that families shouldn’t be forcibly separated, regardless of how they arrive in our country.

Many of these families are fleeing terrible violence, traveling thousands of miles on foot for the chance to file an asylum claim and save their lives. To traumatize them further is unconscionable, and Congress has an obligation to take a stand.