by Taaryl Taylor
My Facebook feed is frantic with headlines of children being ripped away from their parents trying to cross the US border. Families being separated with parents having no communication with their children is provoking outrage in news outlets all over the Internet. Just twenty minutes from my home, caravans of ICE detainees are being shipped to the Sheridan Federal Prison while activists crowd overpasses with signs sharing a message of love, acceptance, and furor over the fate of these families.
Whatever our views of present immigration policy, it seems that this practice is something that hasn’t happened in our country since the Japanese Internment Camps of the 1940’s. Or has it?
Every year over 2.8 million women are jailed, 80% of whom are mothers, the majority of which are awaiting trial for crimes they are only accused of committing. This means that 2.3 million mothers will be separated from their children this year alone without any proof of guilt.
“A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.”
The typical bail amount for someone awaiting trial is $10,000. This sum is statistically much more difficult for women to secure than it is for men who have been arrested, thus a much greater percentage of incarcerated women than incarcerated men are sitting in jail—separated from their children. The irony is that mothers, most of them primary caregivers, pose the lowest flight risk.
So, what happens to children while their mothers await trial? Oftentimes, child welfare services are called in to scramble for some sort of foster care placement, not knowing how long mom is going to be detained. But, even when these children are reunited with their mothers after release from jail, they may find they have lost their homes because mom lost her job and has a pile of bills that haven’t been paid during her incarceration. The trauma experienced by the whole family during this disruption has long-lasting effect.
“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence and divorce, with a potentially lasting negative impact on a child’s well-being…The trauma of being separated from a parent, along with a lack of sympathy or support from others, can increase children’s mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and hamper educational achievement.”
I understand the outrage I see on Facebook and the sentiment of the activists who are crowding overpasses while families are being separated from their children in the most recent ICE crackdowns. It is concerning that ICE presently detains 34,000 people nationwide—with an estimated 2,000 children being separated from their parents since the implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. But, even more alarming is that these figures pale in comparison to the millions of women separated from their families in the US every year due to jailing and unfair bail practices!
And so, this begs the question: Where are the headlines for all of these mothers and children?