There is no shortage of horrors currently happening at this country’s southern border and at concentration camps around the United States right now. According to the claims of one family, we might have to add “forcing a toddler to choose which parent she wants to not be separated from” to the list.
A Honduran couple identified as Tania and Joseph told NPR that last week, Border Patrol agents at a facility in El Paso, TX, told the asylum-seeking couple and their three young children (who are nine, six, and three) that one parent would be allowed to stay in the country with the children while the other would be forced to leave. In order to determine which parent was more expendable, the agent allegedly turned to the couple’s three-year-old daughter, named Sofi, and asked her which parent she would rather choose to be with.
Per NPR, this happened next:
“The agent asked her who she wanted to go with, mom or dad,” her mother, Tania, told NPR through an interpreter. “And the girl, because she is more attached to me, she said mom. But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, ‘You said [you want to go] with mom.’”
Think about the cruelty involved in this—not only forcing a toddler to choose between her mother and father, but also responding like this when she becomes upset.
Making matters worse is that, according to lawyers for the family, Sofi has a serious heart condition, and has already previously suffered a heart attack which required surgery. According to the couple’s account, a doctor “pleaded” with CBP agents to not separate the family due to Sofi’s condition. Tania told NPR that the doctor told her not to let Sofi answer as to which parent she wanted to stay with, because “they don’t have the right to ask a minor.”
Per NPR, again:
When the three children realized the family faced separation, they latched on to Joseph — the son around his neck and a daughter around each leg, the parents said. Joseph was taken to another cell.
“I was going to be separated from my children and my wife, and I would have to go back to Juárez on my own,” Joseph said through an interpreter. “I felt devastated.”
Although the Department of Homeland Security guidelines exempts those with “known physical/mental health issues” from the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy, NPR reports that the family has been sent back to Juarez, Mexico, twice already this year, even after the bishop of the Archdiocese of El Paso stepped in on the family’s behalf.
Following another intervention from the unnamed doctor, the family was finally released together on Friday. According to NPR, they’ve since flown to the Midwest to be relatives. DHS didn’t respond to NPR’s requests for comment. (I have also contacted DHS and will update if I hear back.)
What’s missing from the ongoing debate about what exactly to call these atrocities (and yes, “concentration camp” is an accurate descriptor) isn’t just what’s happening now in front of our eyes, but what kind of lasting impact this is going to have on these families the government is hellbent on ripping apart. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies have shown emotional symptoms resulting from detention include “anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
We are doing this to children before they even have fully-formed memories. It is cruel, disgusting, and abhorrent. And all of the handwringing in the world won’t change the fact that America has been and is still carrying out child abuse as both unofficial and official policy, and our cryptofascist government is all too happy to enforce it.