Families belong together and free.
Write to Congress now.
“President Trump’s executive order replacing his immoral policy of family separation with a new practice of indefinite family detention simply trades one evil for another.
The internment of children, even if with their caregivers, remains reprehensible.
The executive order also does nothing to address the 2,300 children who have already been separated from their parents.
Oxfam stands in solidarity with every voice denouncing the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" policy and demands the immediate reunification of families.”
- Press Release, Oxfam America
The president's new executive order to detain families together does not solve the problem created by the zero-tolerance policy enacted by the Justice Department on May 7, 2018. While additional families may not be separated, it does not contain any provisions for reuniting families already split apart by this brutal policy.
‘Well, he won’t be reunited with his parents unless he behaves.’ - A Physician in South Texas on an Unnerving Encounter with an Eight-Year-Old Boy in Immigration Detention - The New Yorker
“It’s just a total labyrinth,” - The chaotic effort to reunite immigrant parents with their separated kids - The Washington Post
"Many members of the media and opponents of the president have seized on this issue to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters," - Sinclair broadcasting segment criticizes outrage over Trump's separation policy - The Hill
The Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” Policy: De Facto Family Separation
On May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy towards border crossers apprehended between ports of entry. Under the policy, border officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are to refer every individual apprehended near the border who did not present at an official port of entry to the Justice Department (DOJ) for criminal prosecution for illegal entry or illegal re-entry.
The government made clear that such referrals for prosecution may include individuals seeking asylum, despite the fact that prosecution inhibits access to protection and despite recent reports that many asylum seekers who instead seek asylum at ports of entry have been denied the opportunity to present themselves. It also means that adults traveling with children will be separated.
Although the policy focuses on prosecution, it is clearly a de facto family separation policy – something the Trump Administration has long threatened and been rumored to consider. It also follows on a growing trend of family separation that advocates have observed for months – including as documented in an administrative complaint and lawsuit. Although the new policy focuses on those apprehended between ports of entry, it is important to note that, even if not referred for prosecution, the administration has also separated families presenting at a port of entry.
Where Do Separated Parents and Children Go?
Once separated, parents will go to the custody of the U.S. Marshals for criminal prosecution and/or the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their immigration case after their criminal case. Children considered “unaccompanied,” either because they arrived alone or because they are separated from their parents, are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It is often impossible for children and parents to find each other and to reunite, even when one is deported.
What about the “Missing Children”?
Once in ORR custody, unaccompanied children are screened for protection concerns and are eventually reunited with sponsors in the community. On April 26, 2018, an official with ORR--the office responsible for the care and custody of unaccompanied children, including children who may have been separated from their parents at the border – testified that in its follow-up calls between October and December 2017 to more than 7,600 sponsors with whom children had been placed, the agency could not determine the whereabouts of 1,475 children. This does not mean that the children were lost while in government custody, but rather, that the government could not confirm their whereabouts by phone during the period in which the calls were placed.
The number is not specifically linked to family separation, and it dates from 2017, before the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy was announced. However, given that family separation related to increased prosecution will increase the number of children referred to ORR, it is more important than ever that ORR be provided the resources it needs to ensure appropriate care and follow-up for children in its custody.
Experts weigh in:
Karen Olness, Professor of Pediatrics, Global Health and Diseases, Case Western Reserve University; fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
"Children without parents may put themselves at greater risk of accidents, injury, and exploitation. If children separated from parents have no reliable caretakers, they are at greater risk… This leads to long-term negative cognitive effects … Children fleeing their country may already be vulnerable and may already have experienced various degradations and exploitations even before they reached the border. If a loss of parents is added to that, they suffer even more."
Megan Gunnar, Regents Professor and Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Child Development at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota:
"When children are torn from their parents for prolonged periods, it can create toxic stress … While not all children that we are ripping from their parents will realize the full consequences of toxic stress, many may. They will be set on developmental pathways toward impulsivity, poor academic achievement, a sense of aggression, and/or depression. This is an extremely high price for these children to pay who have done nothing wrong simply so that the U.S. can punish their parents as deterrents to others. Everything the science tells us says that we need to stop this practice immediately and return these children to their parents."
Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Professor of Globalization and Education at New York University Steinhardt:
"Studies on large workforce raids and the detention and separation of children find that these policies can result in lower emotional well-being, greater behavior problems, and higher rates of mental health problems. On the academic side, we have some evidence of lower school performance and attendance … The current situation at the border could be likely worse because the separation is happening at the same time the child is crossing into the United States as often a result of violence in the home country."
Summary of S. 3036 - Keep Families Together Act - Introduced by Sen. Feinstein
This bill prohibits an agent or contractor of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or the Department of Health and Human Services from removing a child who is under the age of 18 and has no permanent immigration status from his or her parent or legal guardian at or near the port of entry or within 100 miles of the U.S. border unless:
An agency may not remove a child from a parent or legal guardian solely for the policy goals of deterring migration to the United States or of promoting immigration law compliance.
The bill sets forth presumptions: (1) in favor of family and sibling unity and parental rights, and (2) that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
The Government Accountability Office shall conduct a study of the prosecution of asylum seekers.
This bill does not yet have a Republican co-sponsor.
I'm [name] from [zipcode]. The president's new executive order to detain families together does not solve the problem created by the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, as it does not contain any provisions for reuniting families already split apart by this brutal policy. I ask that you take a moral stand against jailing children and their families indefinitely by supporting legislation to account for all the children and reunite all families. This administration continues to choose cruelty over compassion; you need to make the right choice. Keep families together and free.
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Herd on the Hill is a volunteer-run organization in the District of Columbia, with many volunteers who are DC residents with no voting representation in Congress. Our mission is to elevate constituent issues with Congress through hand-delivery of letters, advocacy with congressional staff, and facilitating communication for constituents and progressive organizations with Members of Congress.
Special thanks to the Women's Refugee Commission and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) for putting together their helpful/clarifying fact sheet on the situation of families being separated at the border vs. recent stories about “missing" children. Thanks to Families Belong Together for their graphic, Indivisible Oregon for their call-script that we have adapted, and the Center for American Progress for their press release from which we have quoted conten, and MoveOn.org for talking points. Bill Summary from Congress.gov.