CHN: Advocates Take Steps to Stop Family Separations at the Border

On June 17, Father’s Day, members of Congress and demonstrators opposed to the separation of immigrant children and their parents arrived at detention facilities in McAllen, Texas and in New Jersey. In McAllen, Rep. Vincente Gonzales (D-TX) said he estimated more than 100 children younger than 6 were being held there. Previously, advocates from across the country joined together at events in more than 60 towns and cities on June 14 to protest the Trump Administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at U.S. borders. On June 7, more than 540 state and national child development, child welfare and juvenile justice groups, including several CHN members, that sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calling for the Department to stop the practice, saying that it “will have significant and long-term consequences for the safety, health, development and well-being of children.”

Member of Congress also protested the policy; 38 Democratic senators and two Independent senators joined together in a a similar letter demanding an end to the Trump Administration’s policy. The letter reads, in part, “Your Administration’s decision to separate children from their parents is cruel, unnecessary, and goes against our values as Americans.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush agreed in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post. She wrote “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April the Administration’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy of separating children from their families, even when the families legally present themselves at the border with a request for asylum because they are fleeing gangs or other danger at home. At least 2,700 children have been taken from their parents since October 2017, close to 2,000 of them during the six weeks between April 18 and May 31. Many children are being held in detention centers and other institutional facilities; federal authorities are running out of space to house them and are have started to erect tents on the grounds of three Texas military bases.

Contrary to the repeated assertions of President Trump, there is no law requiring the Administration to separate children from their parents. The Administration has on its own initiated the policy of bringing criminal charges against parents crossing the border; that has not been done routinely in the past. Instead, most parents with children have been released with the order to appear later in court. When parents have legal representation, they show up at court dates. The Family Case Management Program provided lawyers, and 99 percent of the families appeared in court. This program has been canceled by the Trump Administration. Senator Dianne Feinstein, joined by a growing number of co-sponsoring senators (48 at press time), introduced the Keep Families Together Act, which would prevent DHS from taking children from their parents at the border. Although there have been claims that one of the immigration bills headed to the House floor this week would end family separation, this is not the case, according to immigration experts. This House bill, now being negotiated by Speaker Ryan, would allow children and parents to be detained together, although it would not prevent continued separation, and would also significantly weaken current protections for children against prolonged detention. For more on the issue of family separation, see this blog from CHN.

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