Immigrant families even after being reunited tell stories of long-term trauma caused by the separation policy
Carlos Humberto Aguilar pauses after every few words when he gets to the part of his immigration story when his son Aaron, then 13, was taken away by US border officials and he wasnt there to say goodbye. Carlos says several times that what happened to them was the one thing his son most worried about as they made their way to America being forcibly separated from his father.
He used to tell me, Please dont leave me alone and he would repeat that, Carlos said as he recalled his sons pleas during the almost year-long journey from El Salvador to the US border. It was a difficult and dangerous trip that they survived together, only to be split up at their destination.
I told him that I would always be with him. But when they separated us, my promise was broken, Carlos said.
Aaron spent a month in a center for children while his mother, who was already in the US, struggled to locate him, acquire legal representation and turn in documentation proving she was his mother.
Nine months after entering the US, Aaron still stutters when he talks, and he refuses to speak to his father. The relationship we had is broken, the trust we had is broken, Carlos says.
Their story is a familiar one of leaving a homeland to avoid falling prey to gang violence, but ending up traumatised by their experiences arriving at the border. After facing widespread backlash over a policy of child separation at the border, the US government is now seeking to reunite families. But parents and mental health professionals say the effects of the trauma of separation will persist long after parents and children have found each other again.
Child separation of migrant families increased in April of this year under Donald Trumps zero tolerance policy, however its not entirely new. The presidents policy change increased separations because adults crossing into the US illegally would now be criminally charged rather than simply deported. This policy change meant that adults were held in detention facilities, where children are not allowed, until their date in court.
Carlos and his son presented themselves to border officials to seek asylum, and they arrived five months before zero tolerance was implemented. Carlos believes he was discriminated against, and despite providing Aarons birth certificate and passport, that he was separated under suspicion that he wasnt his real father.