NAISA Council Statement on ʻZero Toleranceʻ and Family Separation in the United States

July 20, 2018

Protesters at the Otay Mesa Detention facility in California.
Photo credit: The Japan Times

The Council of the Native American & Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) repudiates the “Zero Tolerance” policy and practice of family separation undertaken by the Trump administration on the U.S.-Mexico border. This practice is explicitly intended to punish vulnerable parents and children refugees as a deterrent to further refugee migration, and violates national and international law.

While the cruel separation of refugee families is intolerable in every circumstance, Council wants to draw special attention to the unique experience of Indigenous migrants, who make up a significant percentage of these refugees. For Indigenous refugees, the devastating process in which children are thrust into cold, prison-like institutions, and parents anguish over the fate of their children, not knowing what to expect or if they will ever see them again, is further complicated by having limited or no language fluency in Spanish or English compounding their fear, isolation, and trauma.

Further, family separation resurrects a federal policy toward American Indians and Indigenous people that the government of the United States rejected decades ago. During the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States abandoned a 50-year-old policy of separating children from their families through off-reservation boarding schools, arguing that forcible separation was inhumane and damaging to the bonds between parents and children. To revive a policy that educators, American Indians, lawmakers, and the government of the United States understood was harmful to family life 90 years ago is unreasonable and undermines the lessons of history.

The Trump administration, by tearing more than 10,000 children from the arms of their parents and families and leaving them for weeks and months in horrific institutional conditions, has effectively created a new stolen generation. The trauma these children have suffered is real, and will affect them for many years after they are reunited with their parents – if they are reunited with their parents and families.

NAISA Council further repudiates the extreme irresponsibility and callousness of the U.S. government in failing to keep adequate records of family relationships to facilitate the reunification of these families, the conditions these children are being kept in, the profits private sector companies are making on child detention, and the coercive and criminalizing nature of its capturing of DNA on the pretext of aiding reunification.

The brutal policy of family separation throws a harsh light onto the enduring nature of the settler state – founded on dispossession – with its compulsion to continually reestablish white dominance and the racial stratification of rights that place non-white subjects in precarious and criminalized positions. Repeatedly in the history of Indigenous peoples, this shameful compulsive need has taken the form of tearing families apart.

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