A Lineage of Family Separation

Anita Sinha
Date of Publication: 
July, 2021
Source Organization: 

In 2018, more than 5,000 migrant children were deliberately separated from their parents under the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, aimed at deterring migration from Central America. Criminalizing migration-related acts, denigrating migrant parents, and invoking religious authority were tactics used to justify this short-lived policy. Counternarratives of devastating harm coupled with sympathetic media coverage and strategic human rights litigation fueled the public outrage that led to the policy’s termination. A Lineage of Family Separation examines the long and painful history of family separation carried out against enslaved, Indigenous and immigrant families by the U.S. government and private actors from colonial times to the present. According to the author, narratives justifying family separation were and continue to be rooted in bigotry, white supremacism and paternalism. Historically, those practices ended when counternarratives synchronized with social movements that promoted fundamental changes. Public condemnation of “zero tolerance” did not encompass collateral family separation caused by mass incarceration and large-scale detention and deportation; the author, therefore, calls for continued alignment of counternarratives with the collective resolve to transform systems that separate predominantly underprivileged families. (Jasmina Popoja for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)


Sinha, A. (2021, July). A Lineage of Family Separation. Brooklyn Law Review, Forthcoming. https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3882269