Tariffs and Trauma


CORRECTION 6 p.m*.: On May 30, Trump announced punitive tariffs on Mexico, beginning at 5 percent on June 10 and mounting to 25 percent by October. He announced the tariffs on the same day that his administration sent a new free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada (USMCA)  to Congress. Of course, these tariffs would violate that agreement. Trump claims to have the power to impose tariffs because of a national emergency at the border. That will be challenged in court. Vox explains that the tariffs will punish not only Mexico, but also U.S. consumers and companies that will  pay them. That includes U.S. automakers, which depend on back-and-forth trade in parts. The tariffs will hurt U.S. auto companies (and other manufacturers), and will help Asian and European automakers.

Trump said the tariffs will continue to rise until Mexico takes significant steps to decrease immigrant arrivals at the southern U.S. border, but did not specify what actions Mexico would have to take or what would constitute sufficient impact on immigrant numbers. That may leave him a way to declare victory and end the tariffs, since immigration always falls in the summer heat.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador denounced Trump’s policies and his latest move:

“How did a country of fraternity for all the migrants in the world become, from night to dawn, a ghetto, a closed space,” where migrants are stigmatized and mistreated, López Obrador wrote. He went on: “The statue of liberty is not an empty symbol.”

Trauma as Policy

U.S. immigration policies continue to punish people seeking safety here. Rewire News reported this week on the practice of taking babies away from pregnant migrants who had just given birth.

“Late last year, Dr. Shelly (a pseudonym), an OB-GYN in the Western District of Texas, said there were multiple cases where pregnant migrants who had just given birth at her hospital were forced to give their children up to Texas DFPS.

“I don’t know if they lose their babies for good,” the doctor said. “But I do know the process is torturous for them.” …

“It’s horrifically traumatizing. Some women told me that after their babies were taken, they begged to be deported because they thought that would mean reuniting with their baby,” Levy said. “Just think about it. You’re 18, 19, 20 years old. You’re in an entirely new country. You just gave birth and your baby is taken from you after two days. You have no clue what is going to happen to your baby or if your baby is safe. You’re taken back to prison, your breasts are leaking milk, you’re in pain, and you sit in a prison cell with no idea when you’ll get released or if you’ll see your baby again. All of this because you crossed a line without permission.”

Mistreatment of immigrant children continues with punitive detention in overcrowded, under-resourced Border Patrol facilities. The law requires that these children be transferred to shelters within 72 hours, but children are held beyond that time limit, some for as longer than a week.

“One government official said about half of the children in custody — 1,000 — have been with the Border Patrol for longer than 72 hours, and another official said that more than 250 children 12 or younger have been in custody for an average of six days.”

That prolonged detention may be one factor in the increasing number of illnesses and even deaths among migrant children.

Aside from the fact that children may have underlying health conditions, most are reaching the United States after arduous journeys during which they have had little access to clean shelter and proper provisions. Many are leaving impoverished and drought-stricken regions.

“But the deaths under President Donald Trump’s watch have health professionals and some advocates questioning whether the administration’s immigration policies — particularly keeping minors in custody for longer periods — are contributing to more minors getting sick and dying while in custody or shortly after they are released.”

Rather than releasing people who show a credible fear of return to their own country to wait for an asylum hearing, the administration has begun sending hundreds of people who turn themselves in and apply for asylum to detention centers in Florida, Texas, New York, and New Jersey.

Detention—prison—is still the preferred policy, with officials using every strategy to prolong incarceration. Writing in the New York Times, a former Border Patrol officer describes one such case:

“Ysabel, it should be noted, has now been detained for more than half a year despite following American immigration and asylum laws to the letter. When interviewed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, she was quickly found to have a legitimate fear of returning to Venezuela. Nevertheless, like tens of thousands of asylum seekers like her, she has been made to endure the suffocating precarity of our criminal justice system despite never having committed, nor ever being accused of, a crime….

“Despite all the odds stacked against her, Ysabel was granted asylum by a federal immigration judge in February, winning her case even without a lawyer. …

“Days and weeks passed, however, and still the door remained inexplicably shut. Week after week, I arrived at the detention center expecting Ysabel’s name to have disappeared from our list, only to find her sitting again in the visitation room among the other women seeking refuge — mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters. Each time we spoke, her freedom seemed to be slipping further away. The government had asked that her release be delayed while officials prepared an appeal. The deadline to file came and went without Ysabel receiving any updates regarding her case. Finally, she heard that the government had indeed filed its appeal, but she was given no follow-up court date — the one piece of information that allows detained asylum seekers to build a potential timeline for their near future, the single point around which some glimmer of hope might coalesce.”


*CORRECTION: Start date of tariff is June 10.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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