A career official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said during a House hearing on Wednesday that the traumas sustained by migrant children stolen from their parents under the Trump administration’s family separation policy “are both extraordinarily severe and they are currently ongoing—and we are part of that traumatization in the United States government.”
Jonathan White, commander of the department’s Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, had previously testified that he was never consulted about this policy, and would have opposed it due to “significant risks of traumatic psychological injury to the child.” During this week’s House Oversight Committee hearing on the mental health needs of migrant children, White reiterated the extent of this trauma, saying the damage extends far beyond the length of separation.
“Long-term, the consequences of separation for many of these children will be life-long, it will involve both behavioral and physical health harm, that all the best available evidence we have on trauma and toxic stress—including that that focuses on children separated from their parents—would suggest would be both severe, and very difficult to manage even with high levels of clinical care,” he said.
A report this month from the HHS inspector general found that the policy inflicted “fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress” on separated kids, some thinking their parents had abandoned them or were dead. A program director at one facility said a boy there “was under the delusion that his father had been killed and believed that he would also be killed. This child ultimately required emergency psychiatric care to address his mental health distress.”
Facility staffers further told inspectors that they struggled to address concerns because the children were unable to trust them. “For example, one program director noted that separated children could not distinguish facility staff from the immigration agents who separated them from their parents,” the report said. “Every single separated kid has been terrified,” said a program director. “We’re [seen as] the enemy.
Some parents have filed lawsuits against the administration, but in January, Department of Justice attorneys claimed that the federal government has no “constitutional duty” to pay for any mental health counseling for these families and sought to have the lawsuit thrown out. “The Government does not owe a free-standing duty to provide medical care to former detainees,” said DOJ attorney Michael Heyse.
Newsweek reported in January that Plaintiff “J.P. had limited contact with her daughter and was found to have been suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, without being afforded access to mental health treatment while in federal custody.” Her child had been jailed at a Southwest Key facility in Arizona operated by a federal contractor that has been under scrutiny for financial improprieties and failing to conduct employee background checks.
While a judge ordered an end to the policy over a year ago, officials have exploited a loophole in that ruling to continue stealing nearly 1,000 additional kids, for reasons as minor as a dirty diaper. Kids “are suffering still, due to the long-term mental health trauma,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro said during the Wednesday hearing. “That is not something that we can ignore, or that we can sweep under the rug. We need to stop the pain and the suffering. Caring for the most vulnerable is the most sensitive of our duties.”
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.