Search icon


22nd Jun 2018

COMMENT: America will never recover from Trump’s state-ordered child abuse

Nooruddean Choudry

When a young child goes missing in shopping mall, it is devastating for everyone

Parents and loved ones are beside themselves with panic, fear, terrible thoughts, and even guilt. They curse the fact they even decided to go shopping that day. Every future plan is on hold as they contemplate whether life will ever be the same again. Workers charged with helping are fraught with anxiety too. They take descriptions and follow protocol, but their professional veneer masks a desperate need to reunite poor kid with petrified guardian.

As for the misplaced child, it is a real-life nightmare. Suddenly everything safe and known in your world is ripped away. Whereas each hysterical scream in your life so far has resulted in a parent or teacher rushing to your aid, this time there’s no one. It doesn’t matter how frantically you look around for a familiar face, or how many tears trickle down your reddened cheeks, you’re alone. In desperation, you look pleadingly to passing adult to make it alright again.

It’s a scenario that’s not uncommon in a Trafford Centre or Bluewater or Liverpool One. Thankfully, most lost kids are found and reunited in a matter of minutes. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hellish for everyone involved for however long it takes. And afterwards, it sticks with you. Parents are overwhelmed with relief, as they make a personal vow never to allow such a harrowing scenario to reoccur. The child is traumatised. Even in later life, they’ll recall every detail.

In one sense the above may sound trivial. Perhaps some would even describe it as a ‘first world problem’ – especially considering all the terrible things happening in the world right now. But it’s not horrific for what happens or the outcome, it’s horrid for what each party goes through in the moment – because they don’t know how it will end. Trauma is born of fearing the life-destroying worst, and even imagining that for a moment is utterly shattering.

Yet such momentary heartbreak is just a flicker of what people are going through right now in Donald Trump’s America, where families have been torn apart due to a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy at the Mexico/US border. For zero-tolerance read zero-humanity, as the tears of petrified children are used as leverage for securing congressional funding. Family separation due to cruel fate is heartbreaking enough, but this is state-administered child abuse and emotional torture.

Just as shocking and repulsive as such behaviour is the deplorable defence it garners. It is everyone else’s fault but that of Trump or his neo-fascist regime. ‘Serves them right’ and ‘they had it coming’ are common refrains from heartless folk who look at the poor and desperate and see sub-human scum. Such hardline attitudes towards migrants certainly don’t excuse the fact that proven asylum seekers have also been separated from their loved ones.

Trump himself continues to spread lies about how it is the Democrats who forced him to sever families, and that the policy was utterly irreversible (shortly after reversing it under duress). For the record, the recent family separation tactic is a direct result of the current administration’s ‘zero tolerance policy’, not a previous administration’s law.

Such misinformation is intended to deflect, distract and distort the worldwide outrage at how the US are behaving and what they have become. Images of toddlers bawling beside their soon-to-be removed mothers, scores of children caged behind wire-mesh fences, and confused kids wearing assigned numbers are not only chilling for what they are, but also what they recall from history. If now is not the time to say this is gross, terrifying, and inhumane, then when is?

Perhaps those defending Trump take pleasure in the fact that a 10-year-old girl with Downs syndrome was one of thousands of children separated from their parents; maybe they “actually enjoy seeing those pictures at the border” like White House senior adviser Stephen Miller. It’s hard to tell, seeing as their arguments see-saw so often. One minute they stress the need to remain ‘strong’ against the public outcry, then it’s the Dems’ fault anyway, and the next Trump deserves praise for his u-turn.

Regarding Trump signing an Executive Order to reverse family separation policy, it is simply much too little far too late. You can’t erase the trauma or the damage it has done to America’s crumbling reputation. And there is no end in sight for those affected. Neither Trump nor his administration has outlined any plans for uniting children already separated from their parents. Over 2,300 of them. Confusion reigns about where some of these state-kidnapped children actually are.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was shocked to discover that 239 children were found in just one facility in his city, with the youngest detainee being just nine months old.

In imploring the federal government to stop the ‘broken and inhumane’ separation policy, De Blasio highlighted the need for mental health support for removed children. It is something that hasn’t been given a second thought by a President who sees these minors and their families as pawns in his political game. So low is his estimation of the American public, that he actually thought ripping babies from their mothers would be a “good cultural war, a kind of victory” in the polls.

He underestimated the innate human kindness of the people, and if he thinks this PR disaster can be forgotten by a scrawl on an Executive Order, he is as stupid as he is callous. This dark chapter in America’s history is far from over. Trump is squarely responsible for the deep trauma that his actions have caused thousands of children – children who are still alone, incarcerated and afraid, and at huge risk of being lost to the system as the complicated process of reuniting begins.

Back to the shopping mall, which had nothing to do with anything really. It was a ham-fisted attempt on my part to make this evil attack on basic human rights more relatable. Because, hopefully, you won’t have to experience a situation where a child is being pulled away from you with pleading tears in their eyes, whilst you have no words of comfort, because you don’t know when you’ll see them again. The misplaced kid in the Trafford Centre is, thankfully, our closest taste of such untold horror.

But if something like that did happen to you as a child, if you did lose your mum’s hand somewhere for even a minute or two, you’ll know it haunts you forever. It only takes a moment of confused panic in your formative years to leave a small mental scar for life. Imagine how caged kids in America feel right now. It’s not a mere moment for them; they’re still separated and confused and afraid. They still don’t know when they’ll see mum or dad again. Even in a best case scenario, they are days or maybe weeks away from a warm parental hug.

Professor Luis Zayas of the University of Texas was talking to ABC this week when he described the form of child abuse known as ‘soul murder‘ – the wilful mistreatment and neglect of children by adults that is of sufficient intensity to be traumatic. He explained:

“Two of the most damaging childhood adversities are loss of the attachment bond with the parents and childhood physical and sexual abuse. If you want to damage someone permanently, expose him or her to one or both of these traumas.”

He stressed the lasting psychological impact of losing one’s parents for any significant amount of time, and how it can lead to serious developmental issues and a fundamental loss of hope. When asked how long it will take to recover from such a trauma his answer was stark: “The damage that will be done will last a lifetime.”

What has been done in recent weeks, by order of President Trump and his heartless administration, can never be undone. Childhoods and lifetimes are ruined. And anyone who counters with a glib, ‘Well rules are rules’, can fuck right off.