Source: Observer editorial
Donald Trump’s policy of forcibly separating immigrant parents and children at the US border has been greeted with shock and abhorrence. Around the world, people have listened to audio of young children sobbing for their parents while federal agents crack jokes and heard the stories of children locked up in cages in the richest country in the world. Even the prime minister broke with her usual timidity about Trump’s transgressions to call his family separation policy “deeply disturbing”.
What hypocrisy. Less noticed – although no less inhumane – is the British government’s policy of separating parents from their young children as part of immigration detention, all conducted on Theresa May’s watch, first as home secretary, then as prime minister. Charities such as Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) have for years been raising the cases of children, many of whom are British citizens, taken into care because their parents have been detained, or even deported, without them.
In recent months, a long list of cruelties meted out in the name of the government’s “hostile environment” policy has come to the public’s attention: people who’ve lived in Britain legally for decades, paying their taxes, suddenly denied life-saving NHS care; young people who’ve grown up in Britain facing many thousands of pounds in fees and a multi-year slog to get permanent residency; children raised in care facing the risk of deportation as an adult to a country they don’t know. Any sense of basic justice or human compassion seems to have eluded the Home Office.
But separating tiny children from their parents is cruelty of a whole different order. Today, we report on the case of Kishi, a young mother who dropped her two-year-old off at nursery in order to attend an appointment at an immigration reporting centre. There, she was restrained by immigration security officials and taken to an immigration removals centre. No arrangements were made for her toddler, who was put into emergency foster care when no one came to pick her up, and Kishi was not told where her daughter was for two days. It was another month before she saw her.
Kishi and her child are not alone. BID says more than 300 children were removed from their parents in the last 12 months, an increase of 16% on the previous year. Many of those will have been taken into care as a result. The Home Office does not keep records on this; perhaps because it contravenes its own guidance, which says children must not be separated from their parents for immigration purposes if it means they will be taken into care. Parents affected get caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare; our report today details how the Home Office attempted to deport Leysa, forcibly separated from her six-month-old daughter and two-year-old son for four months after she was detained, arguing it could do so because she was not their primary carer. The only reason it could make that argument was because her detention by the Home Office meant they were taken into care.
Forced separation has a long-term and profound impact on children. Research by BID details how they became isolated, lost weight, suffered from insomnia and had nightmares as a result. “Children described their despair and misery at not knowing when or if they would see their parent again,” the report said. “Dear Dad, I’m feeling fine today but I miss you loads. I want to see you again so much… But you know I’m doing fine. Hope I get to see you again,” wrote one child victim of the policy. “You’re the most spectacular dad ever.”
These separations are the direct result of policies overseen by Theresa May. There may be no audio of children sobbing and we may refrain from locking up children in cages. But the only substantive difference between Donald Trump and Theresa May on family separation is that the former talks up the evil committed in the name of his administration, while the latter simply hopes we won’t notice. Shame on her.