Federal family separation policy amounts to ‘torture’

The U.S. government’s policy of separating migrant children from their families at the southern border is “cruel, inhuman,” and “rises to the level of torture,” according to a new academic article authored by a slate of doctors throughout the country.

The paper, published Tuesday in the medical journal Pediatrics, found that the controversial anti-immigration practice meets the UN’s three criteria to be defined as torture for children: It causes “severe pain and suffering,” it’s purposeful and it’s state-sponsored.

“Targeted physical and psychological abuse is inflicted on children,” the authors wrote, adding that the suffering is severe given their age and stage of development. “It is a purposeful strategy of the state to use children to reduce border crossings by their parents.”

The authors concluded their article with a call to action, asking that pediatricians, child health care professionals and child advocacy organizations to work together across disciplines, to stop the torture of children in the U.S. and around the world.

This they said, would include training child health care professionals how to identify, document and educate others on the effects of this trauma and for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to lead a global call for family reunification.

UCSF family medicine Dr. Coleen Kivlahan, one of the paper’s co-authors, said there’s been an active discussion for years among pediatricians and family medicine doctors about what should be done to care for those separated at the border. The paper’s authors are comprised of doctors who have treated patients at the border and some like Kivlahan, who, as co-chair of the UCSF Health and Human Rights Initiative, works with migrant families who have relocated to the Bay Area.

Kivlahan said doctors have long struggled with how to legally define what was happening to the children — who were taken from their families during early developmental stages, and kept in cages without proper food, warmth or proper hygiene.

But the laws against child abuse are related to the caregiver or the parent, Kivlahan explained, and that didn’t apply at the border.

“That’s why we called this torture,” said Kivlahan. “We talked to these doctors from all over the world, and they agreed: (The policies) didn’t meet the diagnosis of child abuse, they met the diagnosis of torture,” given that the acts were carried out by federal officials.

The practice of removing children from their families stemmed from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy launched in eary 2018 — a series of punitive actions taken against people caught crossing the border illegally. The polices, intended to deter illegal immigration, garnered widespread outrage from both sides of the aisle, prompting Trump to sign an executive order in June 2018, to end the family separation portion.

But several news and advocacy outlets, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported that family separations continued long after the executive order.

The article states that in 2019 over 851,000 people were apprehended on the border, including 473,682 families and 76,020 unaccompanied minors.

The paper’s authors include six

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