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Push Trump and Trudeau to stop separating families

Peter Hogarth

June 22, 2018

Donald Trump’s plan for dealing with immigration into the US was on full, terrifying display this week, ripping migrant families apart and putting children into cages. But this prompted a massive backlash and on June 20 (World Refugee Day), Trump was forced to partially back away from some of the most cruel policies. The surge in solidarity can continue pushing back on Trump’s policies, and expose and challenge Trudeau.

Trump’s torture

Trump’s policy requires authorities to criminally prosecute migrants crossing the US border. As a result, everyday, dozens of children are being separated from their parents. While there is no official government-policy that children and parents must be separated, under the Trump administration’s directive it is inevitable: when migrants are criminalized, the children and parents cannot be together in federal jail and, so, the children are taken into government custody or to foster care. Border Patrol announced that just between May and June, they separated 2,342 children from their parents.

ProPublica released audio recordings of children being torn away from their parents at a US Customs and Border Protection facility. The recording featured 10 children from Central America, estimated to be between 4 and 10 years old, sobbing uncontrollably while Border Agents joked about it. The shocking audio cast a light on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy of US border enforcement. As Amnesty International explained, “This is a spectacularly cruel policy, where frightened children are being ripped from their parent’s arms and taken to overflowing detention centres, which are effectively cages. This is nothing short of torture.”

There was a surge in deportations under the Obama administration, which paved the way for Trump—who made “illegal immigration” a central part of his message during the 2016 presidential election. Since being elected he has moved to aggressively enforce the borders. The Trump administration has made deportations a priority and given Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers the green light to deputize local law enforcement to enforce immigration violations, to raid schools, hospitals and job sites looking for undocumented people, given them additional funding and threatened to pull grants from cities that say they will be a sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. The result has been an increase in immigration arrests by 30% from 2016 to 2017 and horrifying images, video and audio of children being ripped from their parents at border crossings.

But a recent poll from Quinnipiac shows that roughly two-thirds of US voters oppose separating children from their parents. Video footage released by the US Border Patrol shows migrant children in concrete-floored cages and an escalating number of reports from journalists and whistleblowers has led to international condemnation.

The outcry against Trump’s family separations has forced him to change course on one aspect of his border policy. On June 20, he issued a statement that he would sign an executive order to end the family separation policy, but didn’t commit to reuniting the 2,300 children already separated. As well, the change will mean that families will be able to remain together, albeit while being detained indefinitely.

Trump’s backtrack is no thanks to Trudeau. Up to two days ago, his position was that he wouldn’t “play politics” with the issue. Only after the flood of condemnation did Trudeau break his silence, saying “what’s going on in the united states is wrong...I can’t imagine what the families living through this are enduring. Obviously that is not the way we do things in Canada.” But Canada has a long history of state-enforced family separation and that legacy continues today.

Separation of Indigenous families

Beginning in 1876 and continuing for 120 years, 150,000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit children were removed from their homes and families by the Canadian government and sent to residential schools. It was a policy of forced assimilation and these church-run, government-funded policies were designed to extinguish Indigenous culture, language and traditions. They were also rampant with abuse and led to thousands of deaths. The last residential school closed in 1996.

This Canadian tradition of separating Indigenous children from their families was carried on in what has come to be known as the “60s scoop.” Between 1965 and 1984, federally-funded provincial governments across Canada arranged permanent foster care or adoption of Indigenous children into non-Indigenous homes. Children were removed and placed in homes--often hundreds if not thousands of miles from their home communities—by child welfare agencies that judged First Nations’ ways of parenting as not meeting the standards of white, Christian society. In Ontario alone, over 16,000 children were removed.

However, the tragedy continues for First Nations children and families. Decades after the end of Residential Schools and the 60s Scoop, there are currently more children in child welfare care than at the peak of the residential school system; easily more than double. The CBC reports that more than 27,500 children are likely no longer living with their parents and that, while only accounting for 2% of the population, Indigenous children are between 10% and 20% of children in care.

Provinces fund child welfare for children off reserve but expect the federal government to fund it on reserves, violating their own provincial child welfare laws. The result is that if the federal government does not fund it, the provinces typically do not top up the funding levels. This two-tiered child welfare system means First Nations children on reserves receive less funding for child welfare than other children and aggravates the conditions that bring children into contact with authorities, such as poverty and poor housing.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has confirmed that unequal funding from federal and provincial governments has led to more First Nations children ending up in child welfare care As Cindy Blackstock writes in a CBC article, “over half of First Nations children live in poverty, they are 12 times more likely to be removed from their families, graduate at less than half the rate of their non-Indigenous peers and are over-represented on a plethora of poor health indicators.”

According to the Tribunal, Canada’s failure to act, including Trudeau’s Liberals, on the many reasonable solutions put forward to end the discrimination has led to suicide deaths of young people on reserves. The Tribunal has issued 3 non-compliance orders to the government of Canada for not ending the discriminatory funding. These complaints have been echoed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.     

Separation of migrant families

Canada also has a long history of separating migrant families, which Trudeau has continued. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program draws migrant workers to be exploited in precarious jobs, separated from their families and unable to bring them over because of they are denied permanent residence and under constant threat of deportation. As the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association explained, “[Migrant workers] have made the biggest sacrifice possible to provide for their families back home, which is being separated from their loved ones, and that separation often lasts an average of about seven years."

Last year more than 150 migrant children were detained in holding centres—including a six-year old detained for six months. Even children with Canadian citizenship have been detained—nearly 250 from 2011 to 2015 in Toronto alone—if their parents were detained.

Faced with the Trump administration’s racist travel bans and escalating deportations, Trudeau has staunchly refused to rescind the “Safe Third Party Agreement” that refuses to admit refugees who arrived in the US from continuing to Canada. While Trump wants to build a wall between Mexico and the US, Trudeau is effectively enforcing a wall between the US and Canada to keep migrants out.

Families belong together

But the surge in solidarity that is pushing Trump to backtrack on his cruel policies can expose Canada’s long legacy and push Trudeau to stop interfering with Indigenous families, condemn the US policies and end the “Safe Third Party Agreement,” and end Canada's own detention system while providing status for all.

Tent cities and encampments outside ICE detention facilities have sprung up in US cities, most notably Portland where hundreds of protestors have surrounded a building for several days. On June 30 there will be rallies across the US and Canada under the banner, “Families Belong Together.”

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