“We Need to Take Away Children”
What a superb piece of investigative journalism by Caitlin Dickerson. I hope the detailed history of this sordid story leads readers and voters to be more diligent about watching the way governments, both state and federal, deal with immigration.
Caitlin Dickerson’s breathtaking investigation exposed the malice and incompetence of the Trump administration, as well as the failure of hundreds of government officials to stop a policy that deliberately traumatized thousands of children and parents. It reaffirms why Physicians for Human Rights concluded in 2020 that family separation meets the United Nations’ criteria for torture and enforced disappearance.
As outlined in the UN’s Convention Against Torture—which the United States ratified in 1994—four elements must be met to legally define acts as torture. Torture (1) causes severe physical or mental pain or suffering; (2) is done intentionally, (3) for the purpose of coercion, punishment, or intimidation; and (4) is conducted by a state official or with state consent or acquiescence. Both Dickerson’s investigation and PHR’s reports on the health consequences of family separation show that all four criteria for torture were met. The trauma from these separations did not disappear when families were finally reunited. As a perpetrator of state torture, the U.S. government is obligated to provide prompt and effective redress to survivors, including psychological rehabilitative services. Despite calling family separation “criminal” on the campaign trail, Joe Biden has done little for its survivors. Instead, his administration’s Department of Justice is fighting these families in court and defending the abhorrent family-separation policies of the Trump administration.
Thank you to The Atlantic for keeping this issue in the public spotlight. The officials who devised family separation or who stood by while this abuse was perpetrated may wish to turn the page and move on, but the thousands of families who were separated cannot do so until the U.S. government acknowledges the harm it inflicted and provides redress.
Senior Medical Adviser, Physicians for Human Rights
As a state child-protection caseworker for 30 years and, more simply, as a human being, I was horrified when I first heard of Donald Trump’s family-separation policy several years ago. Caitlin Dickerson’s putting names and faces to that policy gave it a more poignant and personal horror.
I grieve for the America that these leaders are carving out for my children and grandchildren. I feel anger and disgust at the moral bankruptcy and incompetence of the Trump world, and I was brought to outrage and despair by the report that border agents mocked immigrants. How can one possibly conceive of ripping a baby from a mother’s breast while chanting “Have a happy Mother’s Day”? Is this the face of America? May God help us all!
I could read only a page or two at a time of Caitlin Dickerson’s article. The pain of the families being ripped apart was palpable. Reunification will be merely the first step; healing the rupture of trust will take far longer. Studies of trauma indicate that this pain and its consequences may be passed on for generations. We, the people of the United States, allowed our government to do this. We should hang our heads in shame.
We can’t heal the immigrants’ trauma or mend the hearts of the perpetrators. What we must do is update and restructure our immigration system, now.
Let Brooklyn Be Loud
The sound of gentrification is silence, Xochitl Gonzalez wrote in the September issue.
Reading Xochitl Gonzalez’s description of the “aesthetic” of silence, I realized that it was one I grew up with, was trained to revere and need. I consider noise—whether from a stereo, a car horn, an argument, a racing motorcycle, or a party—an intrusion, a violation of my space and contentment. Why the need for so much quiet? What joy and life does this need snuff out in others and in myself?
I’m not sure I’ll succeed, but the next time I’m bothered by another’s shouting, I’ll try to remind myself that life is a loud affair. It was always meant to be, from a baby’s first cry.
Salt Lake City, Utah
I love quiet. I’m currently in a protracted struggle with my local city council to have high-powered leaf blowers banned. They are an incredible nuisance, disrupting not only every sleeping child and working neighbor for a 10-block radius, but also every bird and bee.
Yet I fully agree with the author that we should let our neighbors speak, laugh, cry as loud as they wish—and, yes, even party. I do not want to live in a world subsumed by machine noise, but I most definitely want to hear the sound of people living their lives fully.
I believe that my local city council’s exemption of leaf blowers from our local noise ordinance is racist, or at a minimum classist. Consider, for instance, a lively gathering of people of color being reported for a noise violation and the cops showing up. In contrast, my rich white neighbor can rest at ease knowing that their high-powered leaf blowers remain exempt. The implicit statement is that your party, your friends, your life are less important than your neighbor’s manicured lawn.
Behind the Cover
This article appears in the November 2022 print edition with the headline “The Commons.”