By Lauren Rearick
Thousands of migrant parents and children that were separated from each other at the United States/Mexico border under the direction of President Donald Trump’s administration are now eligible for mental health treatment, and the U.S. government has to provide the services.
On Tuesday (November 5), Judge John Kronstadt of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ruled that the federal government must make free mental health screenings and subsequent treatment available to families and children who were separated at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, the New York Times reported. Per his ruling, Kronstadt said the Trump administration’s process of separating families had caused physical harm and “severe mental trauma” to both parents and children, some of whom have yet to be reunited even after months of torture.
The case was brought to federal court by three migrant mothers who sought mental health support. As part of the suit, J.P., a Guatemalan migrant, said she was separated from her 16-year-old daughter for 40 days, the New York Times reported. During that time, J.P. had been unable to contact or locate her child. It was only when a lawyer spoke to J.P. in a Mayan language she understood that she discovered her child had been sent to a detention facility in California. “The guards insisted she needed no help and could on her own use phones to reach her daughter,” a lawyer for J.P. alleged.
Lawyers representing the federal government told Judge Kronstadt there was no confirmed proof of children being impacted by the policy. As such, they deflected responsibility, the New York Times reported — but medical experts say this kind of treatment can have a lasting psychological impact, leading children to potentially suffer from conditions including delayed motor abilities, an increased risk for future mental health complications including depression and anxiety, and physical symptoms ranging from headaches to stomach aches.
It’s currently unclear how the government would provide services to families who have already left the U.S., the Times pointed out. The ruling has mandated that the government has 21 days to provide a plan of how they would make the services available to families seeking the services, and the plans must account for “reasonably convenient” locations; the government has also been tasked with alerting eligible families about the services. But many of those impacted by the immigration policies have since relocated to areas throughout the country, and likely harbor an understandable mistrust of the federal government, so getting in touch with those families might prove to be difficult.
The ruling comes just a year after Trump established a policy of charging those who crossed the border without documentation with felonies, which often resulted in forcibly separating children that were seeking asylum in the U.S. from their families. Under the policy — which Trump later rescinded following continued criticism — adults that made it to the U.S.-Mexico border were often sent to federal prison to await federal prosecution. As children couldn’t accompany their parents or guardians, they were often sent to detention centers — many of the which were ill-equipped to handle the influx and had unlivable conditions, including sometimes having children sleep in cages, not giving them access to soap or places to wash their hands or shower, and more.
In 2018, the American Psychological Association decried the practice in an open letter directed at Trump himself. “For children, traumatic events can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders that can cause long lasting effects,” Doctors Jessica Henderson Daniel and Arthur C. Evans, the respective President and Chief Executive Officer of the APA wrote. “Furthermore, immigration policies, such as separating families at the border, can also adversely impact those immigrants who are already in the United States. They can suffer from feelings of stigmatization, social exclusion, anger, and hopelessness, as well as fear for the future.”
Prior to Tuesday’s federal court ruling, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and other politicians, had questioned the potential impact of separation. “Even if you separate a kid from their parent for two days, you have already created lifelong lasting trauma,” the New York congresswoman said. “There were children who have been separated that we have reunified — and it took about a year to reunify some of these kids with their parents — lifelong trauma for which we, the United States, are responsible.”