Free the Separated Children. Vote Out Donald Trump | Opinion

Over the past four years, only a small handful of private citizens have been granted access to U.S. government facilities to interview children and their families arriving in the United States and check if their conditions are safe, sanitary and appropriate. We are two of those citizens.

Similar visits have quietly taken place for decades with pediatricians, child psychologists, social workers, interpreters, advocates and lawyers like us. Still, nothing could prepare us for what we have seen and documented during the Trump administration. Our trips to over a dozen facilities and interviews with over 100 children and their families expose the vulnerability of our nation's moral integrity to a dangerous leader such as Donald Trump. What we've uncovered calls upon voters to decide who we are and what we stand for as a nation.

We have witnessed children torn from their parents' arms and locked in cages, loading docks, overcrowded cells, tents in the desert, a windowless warehouse, an abandoned military base, a former Walmart, numerous Border Patrol stations and more. We have witnessed children made to walk in uniforms in a single-file line six times a day past a giant mural of Trump.

We have interviewed children who describe being transported in vans and buses with blacked-out windows across state lines, far away from their loving parents and families. We have listened to tearful parents as they recalled being told by U.S. government officials that their young children were being taken to the showers, never to be seen again.

We have witnessed scared parents write U.S. phone numbers on their children's arms with black Sharpie pens in case the government separated them. We have held out our hands as little children reach deep into their pockets for tiny pieces of folded paper with numbers scrawled inside, so that we can call a parent or grandparent or other family member desperate to know where their children are.

We have sat with children and families in Mexican border towns who were sent there by the U.S. government, even though they are not Mexican. Some don't even speak Spanish. The State Department has identified Mexico as a leading source country for human trafficking in the United States, and it is rife with drug cartels and violence. In fact, two children at a shelter in Tijuana were killed before the interviewers' planes in San Diego had even taken off.

Is it any surprise that the U.S. government cannot find the parents of 545 children who were forcibly separated? Not to us. In fact, we suspect there are many more.

America now has a choice. This month, we watched Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed Monday to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, sit quietly in the U.S. Capitol and refuse under oath to take a stand against separating children from their parents at the U.S. border. Her children sat just a few feet away and witnessed their mother's betrayal. America's children are watching, too.

Mother and Son Reunited
A woman, identified only as Maria, is reunited with her son Franco, 4, at the El Paso International Airport on July 26, 2018, in El Paso, Texas. They were separated as they crossed into the United States. Joe Raedle/Getty

During last week's presidential debate, a friend texted a series of messages as Trump tried to defend what is arguably the most inhumane policy of his administration. Her 7-year-old son, who was watching the debate, had asked, "Mom, are kids really being kept in cages in America?" Our friend had to explain to her son that they are. "Are they ever let out?" he continued. "Not the seven children who have died" would be the brutal answer. "Will the children ever be freed?" he asked in disbelief.

That depends on you, the voter. This administration has made clear how children will be treated if this president is re-elected. When asked about the policy that gave rise to 545 missing children and thousands more who have suffered lifetime trauma at the hands of the U.S. government, the president was unapologetic. Instead, he doubled down, claiming that "bad people" had brought the children to the United States (no, they were brought by their families) and describing them as being "so well taken care of" (no, they're not).

After we discovered hundreds of children locked up in inhumane and unsanitary conditions last year in Clint, Texas, we went public with the children's accounts and the filth and neglect we witnessed. Trump denounced the children's accounts as "phony and exaggerated" and sent Vice President Mike Pence on Air Force Two to a different facility in Texas, where the children appeared to have been given brightly colored government-issued sweatsuits to create a false counter-narrative on camera.

We responded by making the children's sworn testimonies readily available for the public to read. The testimonies describe their painful separations from family, as well as the hunger, filth, coldness, illness and shame they have endured at the hands of the U.S. government.

Historians will have access to these children's accounts. So will America's children.

What we don't yet know is whether our children will read these accounts as the end of a dark chapter in U.S. history—or only the beginning.

That is for the voters to decide.

Warren Binford is a law professor at Willamette University. Hope Frye is an attorney who runs a nonprofit that serves immigrant children. They co-founded Project Amplify to document the abuse and neglect of children at the hands of the U.S. government since 2017 and share their testimonies.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.