Tell the Administration to Stop Taking Children from their Parents
by Hannah Woerner
Today is the first day of Immigrant Heritage Month. Unfortunately, instead of celebrating our collective history and honoring and remembering immigrants, we are focused on the more urgent issue of family separation.
Last month, over a span of just 13 days, U.S. Border Patrol forcibly separated more than 600 children from their parents at the southern border. Infants as young as 53 weeks are being ripped from their parents’ arms and taken into government custody. Between October 2017 and April 2018, more than 700 children were taken from their parents, including over 100 children under the age of four. This cruel and systematic separation of families forms the linchpin of the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy, in which immigrant parents are torn away from their children and criminally prosecuted when they attempt to apply for asylum. Parents often do not know where their children are being held or when they will see them again. One mother lost contact with her 18-month-old son for over two months after immigration officers forced her to buckle her child into a car seat in a government vehicle and then drove away without her. The resulting child welfare disaster is unprecedented, completely unnecessary under current U.S. immigration laws, and just plain inhumane.
To be clear, the families at the border are following U.S. asylum law, but the government is not. Domestic and international law allows for people seeking protection from violence and persecution to present themselves at the border and request asylum. These families are actively seeking out Border Patrol agents to do just that. There is no law on the books requiring family separation at the border and agency officials could choose to end this barbarous practice today. Instead, the government has adopted an explicit policy of terror to deter families from seeking protection in the United States. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calls family separation a “tough deterrent” that creates “a much faster turnaround on asylum seekers.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while unveiling his department’s new “zero tolerance” policy, demonized mothers who carry their children away from violence and persecution, saying that “[i]f you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you.” In fact, criminalizing and punishing asylum seekers is part of the administration’s larger plan to slash immigration. By creating a humanitarian crisis at the border, the Trump administration hopes to precipitate a fight in Congress over asylum protections. With hundreds of little children held hostage, the Trump administration can use them as leverage in wider attacks on the legal immigration system, such as eliminating basic due process protections to more quickly detain and deport vulnerable children and families.
Meanwhile, top agency officials continue to demonstrate a callous disregard for the fate of these young children, with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defending family separation and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly commenting that “the children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” Families fleeing violence and persecution have already suffered intense trauma and abuse. The best way to care for these children is to keep families together, not funnel them into an ill-equipped government shelter system. And just as the administration separates more children from their parents, it is cutting legal aid funding for unaccompanied children in immigration court, making them even more vulnerable to deportation.
As a nation, we must collectively stand up against the government forcibly breaking up families, both at the border and within our local neighborhoods. We must demand that the administration stop the inhumane practice of family separation and stop criminally prosecuting asylum seekers for crossing the border.
Take Action! Call your Member of Congress and Senator today: (202) 224–3121
Hello, my name is ________ and I’m a constituent of _________. I’m disturbed and outraged by the separation of children from their parents at the border. I urge your boss to do everything that he/she can to stop family separation, including cutting funds for ICE, Border Patrol and detention beds.
In the upcoming weeks, Congress will consider increased funding for ICE and Border Patrol, the agencies responsible for separating, detaining, and deporting thousands of families. Our taxpayer dollars should not be spent to tear families apart. We must demand that our Members of Congress protect children and defund the agencies that violate their basic human rights.
Hannah Woerner is NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC