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“Part of my heart was torn away”: What the U.S. Government Owes the Tortured Survivors of Family Separation

April 19, 2022

When the news broke in 2018 that the U.S. government was forcibly separating thousands of parents and children as young as infants at the U.S.-Mexico border, nationwide outcry ensued due to the evident trauma caused by the separations. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) found that the cases of forcible family separation by the U.S. government that we documented constituted torture. PHR's torture finding was cited by the Biden campaign during the 2020 U.S. presidential election. However, as the election passed, uproar and outrage around family separation abated, but parents and children who were eventually reunited struggle to recover from severe psychological effects of the trauma they endured. Parents who were deported and separated from their children for three or even four years continued to suffer and wait in desperation for the moment when they could be with their children again.This study documents the longer-term psychological impact of this inhumane policy of forced separation on parents who were deported by the United States government, most of them separated from their children for three to four years. The persistent and damaging psychological effects documented by PHR call out for acknowledgement, accountability, redress, and rehabilitation. This study also seeks to make visible the desires of the parents who were interviewed regarding means of redress owed to them by the U.S. government. In the context of a broad discussion about redress, it is essential that the views of affected communities be directly incorporated into research and policy recommendations.

Neither Safety nor Health: How Title 42 Expulsions Harm Health and Violate Rights

July 28, 2021

Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Trump administration overrode the objections of public health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and compelled the CDC to issue an order under Title 42 U.S.C. section 265 of the 1944 Public Health and Service Act that closed the border to migrants and asylum seekers. The government used public health as a pretext to summarily expel children and adults seeking refuge at the U.S. border more than 980,000 times, while at the same time allowing other types of travelers to continue to cross the border with no testing or quarantine requirements. Public health experts strenuously objected to the ban, pointing out the lack of epidemiological evidence for only banning this category of entrants to the United States while keeping the borders open to other travelers.Nevertheless, six months into the Biden administration, the U.S. government continues to expel families and adults to countries where they face severe harm and persecution, violating their rights and failing to safeguard public health. The Biden administration also continues to carry out chaotic border expulsions that perpetuate family separation and further traumatize an already vulnerable population.In May 2021, a Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) research team conducted interviews in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico with 28 asylum seekers who had been expelled under the Title 42 order, and with six health care workers providing services to migrants. The team sought to document people's experiences during expulsion, including family separation, the actions of U.S. and Mexican government officials during the expulsion process, and the physical and mental health impacts of expulsion and family separation.People described an impossible situation, where they were unsafe in their own country, unsafe in Mexico, and yet unable to seek safety at the U.S. border. Every day that the Title 42 order continues to expel asylum seekers is another day that the U.S. government is harming people's health and violating their human rights.