News and images of the Trump administration's recently implemented policy of separating children from their parents at the border has garnered sweeping attention, with some even describing it as state-sanctioned child abuse. Antar Davidson certainly sees it that way. The former immigrant children detention center employee quit after he was apparently directed to stop a group of siblings from hugging one another.
Davidson told MSNBC host Chris Hayes that the children coming to the Southwest Key facility he worked at in Arizona were a "much more traumatized population" of kids than what the staff had seen before. Prior to President Trump's early May approval of a "zero tolerance" policy for illegal border crossings, Davidson's temporary detention center housed unaccompanied minors. That is, the children coming to the facility were older and had come into the United States by themselves. And according to Davidson, those kids usually had some idea of what to expect.
In contrast, the children he'd seen since the policy change — "some as young as five" — were far more devastated by their ordeal. Davidson told Hayes the kids were much more difficult to handle. So, "a harder, more authoritarian approach by the staff" came in response to the influx of highly traumatized children. And that resulted in Davidson being told to stop a group of siblings from hugging one another. Bustle has reached out to Southwest Key for comment.
"When I received this order [not to allow the siblings to hug], I realized, because of the way that things were going, there would be more situations that would arise in which I was asked to do things I thought were immoral," Davidson told BuzzFeed News.
Southwest Key — Davidson's former employer — runs several detention centers throughout southwest Texas. According to Bloomberg, the company will receive almost half a billion dollars this year to run its dozen facilities. Bloomberg reports that the Administration for Children and Families predicts it will spend nearly $1 billion in 2018 for the exclusive purpose of caring for children apprehended at the border. It appears Southwest Key will capture roughly half of that large government outlay.
And Davidson appears to think the company does not deserve it. In a video for the L.A. Times, Davidson said that while the physical care of children in Southwest Key facilities was adequate, "emotionally and educationally, it was quite lacking." He also told Hayes on MSNBC that clinicians trained to deal with the emotional trauma for migrant children were chronically understaffed "because the turnover was so high in those departments." To the question of whether or not staff had enough training, Davidson replied, "Not at all." He cited specifically that they were given just one week of training.
Davidson called out the "million or more" Southwest Key's CEO and his wife will make in a year, while he and other staffers are "kept in temporary positions" without benefits. That lines up with Bloomberg reporting, which cites CEO Juan Sanchez making over $1.5 million in 2016.
Davidson described the bedtime routine at the detention facility as particularly difficult. "They're running up and down the halls, screaming, crying for their mom, throwing chairs," Davidson said of the young children he and others were asked to put to bed. By that point, many staffers will have already completed an eight hour shift. The emotional and physical toll is not difficult to imagine.
The immediate effects of a child being separated from their parents were on full display for Davidson and his former coworkers. But many medical professionals are also raising the alarm about longterm damage such trauma can inflict on children. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Colleen Kraft, visited one facility in south Texas. She told NPR, "By separating parents and children, we are doing irreparable harm to these children." Such trauma produces "toxic stress," which can lead to seriously impaired brain development.
Separating traumatized siblings was the last straw for Davidson. It remains to be seen if there will be a similar awakening in the Trump administration.