What, exactly, did a 7-year-old Congolese girl do to the United States to deserve the trauma that has been visited upon her - including forcible separation from her mother - by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and her immigration agents?
There is no allegation that the little girl, known in court filings only as S.S., is a terrorist, nor is there any suggestion her mother is one. Neither was involved with smuggling, nor contraband, nor lawbreaking of any other variety. Rather, S.S.’s 39-year-old mother presented herself and her daughter to U.S. officials when they crossed the border from Mexico explaining they had fled extreme violence in Congo, and requesting asylum.
A U.S. asylum officer interviewed Ms. L, as the mother is called in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, determined that she had a credible fear of harm and stood a decent chance of ultimately being granted asylum. Despite that preliminary finding, officials decided that the right thing to do was to wrench S.S. from her mother, whereupon the mother “could hear her daughter in the next room frantically screaming that she wanted to remain with her mother,” the lawsuit states.
The Trump administration has said that it is considering separating parents from their children as a means of deterring other families from undertaking the perilous trip necessary to reach the United States and seek asylum. Now, without any formal announcement, that cruel practice, ruled out by previous administrations, has become increasingly common. In the nine months preceding February, government agents separated children from their parents 53 times, according to data compiled by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Ms. L and S.S. could have been placed together in a family detention center. Since being torn away in early November, S.S., who is being held at a facility in Chicago, has been permitted to speak with her mother, who is in a detention center in San Diego, just half a dozen times by phone. But, is this the kind of protection Americans want from their Department of Homeland Security?