Children are one of the 'War on Drugs' casualties

Children are one of the 'War on Drugs' casualties
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Like so many Americans, I’ve watched in horror as immigrant children have been separated from their parents due to the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy of illegal entry across the border. Scenes of about 2,000 traumatized children being held in cages at border facilities are being displayed throughout the media. This the result of their parents trying to flee persecution or secure a better life for them.

This resulted in a tremendous outpouring of protests from a wide range of outraged Americans. Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump ramps up scrutiny of legal immigrants Data confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue The FIRST STEP Act sets up a dangerous future MORE quickly took the stage last month and announced the current policy, which directs Homeland Security officials to refer all cases of illegal entry for prosecution.

Politicians, human rights advocates and an array of people have criticized this inhumane policy calling for President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump warns Iran's Rouhani: Threaten us 'and you will suffer' Pompeo: Iran's leaders resemble the mafia NYT's Haberman: Trump 'often tells the truth' MORE to stop it. Last month Donald Trump finally relented to the pressure and issued at executive order that would allow parents to be with their children while being detained.

 

It’s heartbreaking to see children being separated from their parents — and to think of the trauma and physiological damage this will inflict on them. Unfortunately, the separation of children from their parents is nothing new. For many years, millions of children's’ lives have been ruined because of the war on drugs.

I know first-hand the detrimental impact of a child who is subjected to a parent incarcerated because of the drug war. My daughter, seven years old at the time, was totally traumatized because of my 15 years to life sentence I got because of a first time nonviolent drug sale in New York. No child should have to experience the horrible conditions she went through dealing with my imprisonment.

When visiting me at Sing Sing prison she went through abusive body searches by correction officers and even had to strip down her clothing. Through the years I witnessed her beautiful childlike demeanor disappear, gradually replaced with a sadness and depression generally seen in an older person.

By the time she was 12, she had become psychologically damaged and so traumatized by the prison experience that she could no longer visit me. Now as an adult, she still feels the pain of my imprisonment — as I discovered that incarceration does not end at the prison walls, but extends well beyond it, deeply touching the lives of love ones.

Around 500,000 people are locked up in the U.S. simply for a drug law violation. The cost of incarcerating these people has drained state and federal budgets, while failing to reduce drug addiction and overdose deaths.

Lost in this are the children whose lives have been turned inside out by the drug war. More and more elected officials are saying the war on drugs is not working and that we need to consider alternatives. Despite the call for reform, the drug war continues to destroy the family unit leaving it fruitless and barren.

One out of every 14 children in the U.S. has had a parent imprisoned. Today there are over two million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. In addition to the breakup of families because of incarceration, we know that many parents can also lose custody of their children because of drug use.

Whether children are separated from their parents due to zero-tolerance immigration policies, or the war on drugs, we must think of the best interest of children and how can we avoid making them victims of our bad practices, policies, and laws. It’s the right thing to do in order to save our children.

Anthony Papa is manager of media and artist relations at the Drug Policy Alliance.