by Anna Libertin, NACAC’s Communications Specialist, and Mary Boo, NACAC’s Executive Director.
Earlier this spring, the US was highly focused on the impact of the Department of Homeland Security’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that forcibly separated thousands of families, sending children to massive detention centers across the country while their parents were placed in other centers or deported. As an organization dedicated to children who have been separated from their birth families, NACAC joined a chorus of child welfare community members by calling for a stop to this government-sanctioned traumatization.
After national outcry, the Trump administration issued an executive order to end the brutal separations. While this was a small step in the right direction, we cannot stop advocating for the needs of these vulnerable children—both those who have already been separated from their parents and the thousands more who now face indefinite detention. By imprisoning thousands of babies, toddlers, children, and teens—and neglecting thousands of children already separated from their parents—the US government continues to inflict lifelong damage upon children whose parents are fleeing danger in their home countries.
Of the thousands of children separated from their families, only about 500 have been reunited so far. With the executive order failing to address the still-separated children, the Department of Health and Human Services making no definite plans for further reunification, and generally poor recordkeeping, NACAC and other child advocates are concerned about the future of children living away from their parents across the country—particularly as we hear that children as young as three are appearing in court without parents or legal advocates.
And now the administration is seeking to keep children and their parents detained indefinitely, trading the horror of separating families for the horror of incarcerating children. There are not nearly enough places to safely and humanely house families; many of the centers lack the resources to provide children with the bare necessities. Private prisons—clearly no place for children and families—are now stepping forward to fill the manufactured need.
We know that the government is familiar with the grievous effects of inappropriate child imprisonment: several court orders have declared this practice unconstitutional in the past, notably the 1997 Flores settlement, which makes it illegal to detain immigrant children with their parents for more than 20 days. In spite of all we know about the harm that led to these court decisions, the US Justice Department is calling for modification of the orders that forbid the detention of immigrant children,
If courts overturn the Flores settlement, children in immigrating families could be detained for months or even years. If courts refuse to modify the ruling, these children will face the devastating reality of parent-child separation after 20 days of family detainment. In either case, the government-sanctioned child abuse proposed by the original policy won’t be over—it will have just taken a different form.
The fight for ensuring these children’s protection is nowhere near over. NACAC calls upon the US government to affirm its commitment to protecting all children’s best interests by finding a permanent, humane solution for the children whose families are simply seeking safety in our country. We demand that the thousands of children already harmed by this “zero-tolerance” policy be reunified with their parents, and that the injuries inflicted upon them be properly and promptly remedied.
We also call on the adoption and child welfare communities to continue to speak out on behalf of these children, to fight to keep or reunite them with their parents, and to provide support to address the trauma that has already been done. Children and families deserve no less.
Here’s how you can speak up:
- Volunteer. Several organizations in border states, like the Texas Civil Rights Project, are seeking volunteers with legal experience and volunteers who can speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi or K’iche to advocate for these children, assist with legal intake, and interview families. Registered nurses can sign up with National Nurses United to volunteer services to immigrant detention centers as well.
- Support advocates. If you don’t meet the qualifications for volunteering, consider donating to organizations working to protect children at the border. The Texas Civil Rights Project, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) all rely on donations to provide immigrant families with the services they need to survive this stage.
- Contact your elected representatives. As a constituent, your voice is important to the people who represent you in Congress. Congress has the power to create permanent, humane solutions to this issue. Call and send messages to your elected representative demanding better treatment for immigrating children. Visit CallMyCongress.com for more information.
- Speak out. Do research on this issue and share your efforts with the people around you. In this way, your advocacy can be multiplied: show your friends why and how to donate, call Congress, or volunteer through Facebook and Twitter or in person.