End Cruelty to Immigrant Families and Children

“We can’t let people drive wedges between us … because there is only one human race.”
–Dolores Huerta, Co-founder, United Farm Workers

July 26 was the deadline set by a court for the Trump administration to reunite all children and parents who were cruelly separated from each other at the border by their zero-tolerance immigration policy. Yet we are about to enter October with about 400 children still separated from their families. Nearly two-thirds of these children’s parents have reportedly already been deported without being reunited with their children. Immigrant advocates say some migrant parents agreed to be deported quickly with the understanding that it would speed up their ability to recover their children—but did not understand that they would be leaving their children behind. One father from Honduras who was deported without his 11-year-old son told a reporter he believed that was the only way to be reunited with his child: “They told me, ‘He’s ahead of you’. . . It was a lie.”

These are not the only families being threatened and torn apart by current cruel Trump administration immigration policies. We must add all of the families broken up every day by deportation actions; the more than 270,000 U.S.-born children threatened with separation if President Trump revokes Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans in 2019; and the uncertainty still hanging over those, some with young children, who have received temporary immigration benefits through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other Dreamers. The Department of Health and Human Services reported this month that there are 12,800 migrant children who came across the border alone who are still detained rather than placed with family members or sponsors, a five-fold increase from a year ago. This is dramatically straining the capacity of existing shelters and depriving these vulnerable children and youths of crucial supportive human connections. One likely reason for this increase is that sponsors are more reluctant to come forward to care for these unaccompanied minors given the anti-immigrant actions of the Trump administration.

As if these earlier horrors of the administration’s anti-immigrant agenda were not enough, the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services recently proposed to remove the 20-day limit on detention of children with their families established under the 1997 Flores court ruling, which would allow children and families to be placed in indefinite detention in unlicensed facilities. And the administration is expected to soon propose for comment harmful and radical revisions to the “public charge” regulation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to deny green cards and visas to immigrants who receive one or more public benefits, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing vouchers and others. The threat of the new much broader definition of “public charge” is already causing immigrant families not to apply for the benefits they and their children need to survive.

What is wrong with us? As we continue to fight for parents and children separated at the border to be reunified and for children crossing alone to be treated humanely, we must intensify the call of all major faiths to protect children and welcome the stranger. It will take all of us protesting together against the Trump administration’s cruel and immoral zero-tolerance immigration policies, the evil separation of immigrant children from their families, and efforts to detain and cut back protections for immigrant families and children.

For all people of conscience ready to act—you are not alone. You can join the Children’s Defense Fund and many others at the community, state and national levels to resist policies that tear children apart from families and threaten those who are undocumented, those with Temporary Protected Status, those with DACA and other Dreamers, and those seeking green cards and visas. In your local community you can help address the immediate needs of immigrants by supporting service programs providing them needed help, offering refuge and sanctuary, and protesting cruel and harmful practices. Please reach out and support those aiding children and families at the border. At the national level, please join those who will comment on the harmful proposed regulations designed to deny children in detention basic protections and threaten basic survival benefits for children and families with changes to the “public charge” rules.

Two of CDF’s respected colleague organizations, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Immigration Law Center, are co-chairing a Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future Campaign to bring all of us together to fight these anti-immigration policies that will severely harm children and families. To join the campaign, receive regular updates on proposals and learn when and how to comment on proposed actions as they occur, visit http://bit.ly/PIFCampaign.

About one in four children in our country has an immigrant parent. This urgent child and family tragedy is an attack on children, on immigrant families and on the moral decency of our nation—and it is far from over. Please stay vigilant, stand up and speak out.

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Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.