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'Heartlessness Mixed With Political Power': Trump Admin Rejected Plan to Provide Mental Healthcare to Separated Families

"The pain this administration has inflicted on so many children and their families is infuriating."

A woman is reunited with her four-year-old son at the El Paso International Airport on July 26, 2018 in El Paso, Texas. The mother and child were separated for one month when they crossed into the United States. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Along with pushing the White House immigration policy which resulted in the separation of more than 5,400 children from their parents and guardians, policy adviser Stephen Miller pressured U.S. Justice Department lawyers out of accepting a settlement in 2019 which would have quickly connected reunified families with mental health services to help them heal from the trauma imposed by the Trump administration. 

As NBC News reported Thursday, after months of negotiations, lawyers from the DOJ and the pro bono public interest law firm Public Counsel reached an agreement in October 2019, under which the federal government would pay $8 million for the counseling of migrant families. 

"Many of these children thought their parents had deliberately abandoned them. The longer that trauma goes unredressed, the more severe the consequences."
—Mark Rosenbaum, Public Counsel

According to three administration officials who spoke to NBC, the Office of White House Counsel rejected the deal after discussing it with Miller. 

"Ultimately, it was Stephen who prevailed," one official, who requested anonymity, told NBC. "He squashed it."

The White House's refusal to accept the deal resulted in a six-month delay in getting hundreds of children and their parents mental health services, after an ordeal which, as a federal watchdog report said last year, left hundreds of children exhibiting "fear, feelings of abandonment, and post-traumatic stress" and parents suffering "elevated levels of mental distress." 

"Many of these children thought their parents had deliberately abandoned them," Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer who represented the families for Public Counsel, told NBC. "The longer that trauma goes unredressed, the more severe the consequences."

The delay in reaching an agreement added months of time when "mothers and children and families continued to suffer, without redress, from the trauma imposed by the government," Amy Lally, an attorney with the law firm Sidley Austin, which also represented separated family, told the outlet. 

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A month after the White House rejected the deal, the administration appealed a federal judge's order that the government pay for mental healthcare for the families, adding to the delay. The appeal was ultimately unsuccessful and in March 2020 the government was ordered to award a nonprofit organization, Seneca Family of Agencies, a $14 million contract to counsel the families. 

The group has so far worked with more than 500 families who were reunified, but according to NBC, many were not able to receive care because they were deported by the Trump administration during the prolonged negotiations.

The story provoked outrage on social media on Thursday. 

"Heartlessness mixed with political power is the most dangerous thing in the world," tweeted author and former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. 

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