Separating Immigrant Mothers From Their Children Is Abhorrent and Unfortunately We Have Seen It Before

May 29, 2018
4:09 PM

This past Memorial Day weekend photographs were published on The USA Today network, depicting refugee children sleeping uncovered on concrete floors behind locked gates like stray animals. The photographs were used to illustrate how the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies are crimes against humanity.  The result was justifiable outrage stemming from the Trump administration’s election to prosecute, and then separate mothers from their children after they violate the criminal law prohibiting improper entry.

The only problem, the photographs making the rounds were taken in 2014, and the abuses illustrated were perpetrated by the hand of the Obama administration.  The photographs went viral on social media, and the misguided, although understandable horror was further fueled by Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of The New York Times Magazine, who tweeted them out, and subsequently was required to issue a #FakeNews mea culpa.

Let me be clear, the Obama administration engaged in a systemic assault on the rights of immigrants during his tenure as the Deporter-in-Chief. And examples continue to emerge. The International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law recently released a report outlining crimes the Obama administration allegedly committed against refugee children in their custody. Examples of abuses against immigrant children include:

  • Punching a child in the head three times;
  • Kicking a child in the ribs;
  • Using a stun gun on a boy, causing him to fall to the ground, shaking, with his eyes rolling back in his head;
  • Running over a 17-year-old with a patrol vehicle and then punching him several times;
  • Verbally abusing detained children, calling them dogs and “other ugly things”;
  • Denying detained children permission to stand or move freely for days and threatening children who stood up with transfer to solitary confinement in a small, freezing room;
  • Denying a pregnant minor medical attention when she reported pain, which preceded a stillbirth;
  • Subjecting a 16-year-old girl to a search in which they “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard that she screamed”;
  • Leaving a 4-pound premature baby and her minor mother in an overcrowded and dirty cell full of sick people, against medical advice;
  • Throwing out a child’s birth certificate and threatening him with sexual abuse by an adult male detainee.

These types of abuses against refugee children were a dirty open secret of the Obama administration, and were largely ignored by the legacy media, as evidenced by the fact that prominent forces on the left seized the opportunity by circulating the 2014 photographs that parenthetically are not all that dissimilar from those released in 2004 depicting Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse. Those on the left either have very short memories, or they were hoping that we do.

We don’t.

Cindy Carcamo, a journalist who has faithfully covered immigration for The Los Angeles Times, appeared on PBS News Hour over the weekend, and explained how President Trump’s policy of enforcing the criminal law against illegal entry and separating mothers from their children also occurred when Obama implemented his policy of jailing refugee mothers with their children in deportation internment camps.

It should also be noted that Obama similarly implemented an aggressive strategy of criminally enforcing the immigration law.  When Obama left office 52% of all federal criminal prosecutions were for immigration related crimes of the exact nature that Trump and Sessions are now focused on prosecuting.  Typically, it was reported that Carcamo is now facing a backlash for straying from the Democrat controlled narrative by infusing some truth into the immigration debate.

Unfortunately, the outrage we are currently witnessing from hyperpartisan Democratsfar left-leaning pundits, and former Obama administration officials about Trump’s policy (which is abhorrent) has been conveniently manufactured for political gain. It should also be noted that these same people now voicing outrage were curiously (strategically?) silent about the plight of immigrant children when the Deporter-in-Chief was torturing them in deportation jails.

For the record, I’m outraged by both Obama AND Trump. I’m also disgusted because the groundwork for Trump’s enforcement policies was engineered by Obama, and now it is too late to do anything about it. If only Democrats were as outraged when Obama was President, and they actually had influence on the Executive Branch. But I get it, they had a false narrative to advance.

The silver lining from all of this is that the abuse of immigrants is finally being exposed on a wider scale, as I have grown hoarse, screaming from rooftops to deaf ears. And to think all it took was for a Republican to win the presidency.


Matthew Kolken is an immigration lawyer and the managing partner of Kolken & Kolken, located in Buffalo, New York. His legal opinions and analysis are regularly solicited by various news sources, including MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, The Washington Post, Forbes Magazine, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. You can follow him @mkolken.