In September, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services released a proposed rule that would force immigrant parents at the border to decide between waiving their child’s protection from indefinite detention in DHS facilities or surrendering their children over to the federal government.
At NACAC, we are familiar with the devastating effects of family separation, the intense pressure already placed on the US foster care system, and the grievous effects of inappropriate child imprisonment. With this in mind, and in accordance with our mission to protect the health and wellbeing of all families, NACAC expresses strong opposition to the proposed rule.
The 1997 Flores settlement makes it illegal to detain immigrant children with their parents for more than 20 days. This decision, along with several other court orders, comes from recommendations by pediatricians, psychologists, and other child welfare professionals who find that indefinite detention causes considerable harm to children. This harm is compounded when one reads the reports coming from these detention centers. With “prison-like” conditions including open toilets, constant light exposure, insufficient food and water, no bathing facilities, extremely cold temperatures, and children sleeping on cement floors, these facilities fail to meet a child’s need for adequate and appropriate medical care, education, and mental health services.
The alternative — turning children over to the federal government rather than forcing them to withstand imprisonment — places the weight of thousands more children on a foster care system that is already strained due to the opioid crisis.
This policy is unsustainable, unjust, and immoral. Our nation’s public policies need to protect children, not harm them. We don’t need to choose between family separation and indefinite detention. As we have been doing over the years, the US government can release families while still ensuring that they attend immigration hearings and required, mandated check-ins by connecting them with social service providers, connecting by telephone, or — in extreme cases — electronically monitoring some individuals. Studies show that this case management program is an effective way of ensuring that asylum seekers appear in court without erasing individual dignity, spending taxpayer dollars, and greatly harming a child’s well-being.