The Attachment Implications of the Family Separations Happening at the Border

Sign protesting family separation at the borderEarly this year, the White House employed a new policy intended to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants seeking asylum along the southern border. In May, the US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced that all immigrants crossing the border without documentation to do so would be taken into custody and face criminal charges. Any children traveling with them would be separated from their parents and placed in federal custody. Nearly 3,000 families have been cruelly and needlessly separated. Infants and children have been placed in federal shelters while their parents have been jailed.

Family Separations at the Border

In May, months after Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy was reversed, the New York Times reported that more than 500 children, some as young as five years old, are estimated to still remain shelters, separated from their families. USA TODAY reports that the Trump administration has “quietly resumed separating immigrant families at the border.” Attorneys say that immigration officials are “using whatever justification they can find” to keep the families apart. Seeking asylum in the USA is not a crime, so other charges are being created in order to prosecute adult immigrants.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory, a psychological model developed by English psychologist John Bowlby in 1958, suggests babies and young children naturally form an attachment to at least one primary caregiver. This attachment serves as the child’s primary source of security as well as the cornerstone of their emotional and social development. Torn away from the caregiver, the child does not receive the comfort and safety that they expect, breaking down their social, cognitive and emotional regulation. In the long-term, normal development of these areas is significantly challenged. As they grow, these children may be at greater risk for mental health disorders, substance abuse, continued trauma, aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and other challenges.

Refugee families crossing the border

Many of these refugee families are entering the US in an attempt to flee already traumatic situations. They cross the border knowing the risks of separation, but they come anyway. Separating families once they arrive creates additional trauma. The American Psychological Association reported in September that “more than 375 psychologists and other mental health professionals” have volunteered to provide their services to all of those effected.

Non-profit organizations have stepped up to help families at the border

There are many Americans eager to help however they can. Many have volunteered as child advocates, spending time with and advocating for children while they attend legal proceedings. You can donate funds to a non-profit (see above). You can volunteer to visit the children and adults waiting in immigration detention.

Haven Hills Recovery – Trauma Informed Care for Women