June 08, 2018

Udall, Heinrich Demand Trump End Cruel Policy Of Separating Children From Parents At The Border

Senators send letter to President & cosponsor legislation to keep immigrant families together

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are demanding the Trump Administration end President Trump’s inhumane policy of separating innocent boys and girls from families who cross the Southwest border seeking asylum in the United States. Udall and Heinrich say that the Trump Administration’s family separation policy is ineffective, immoral, and can cause life-long trauma in children.

“We are writing to ask that you reverse course on your inhumane decision to separate children from their parents at the border,” the senators said in a letter to President Trump. “This policy has traumatized children who are fleeing extreme violence. Our government has a humanitarian duty to the children and families seeking asylum in the United States to end this policy immediately.”

According to an April report in the New York Times, more than 700 children had been taken from their parents from October 2017 to April 2018, including more than 100 children under the age of four. The senators underscored that the administration’s cruel and unnecessary separations run counter to widely accepted standards of care that prioritize keeping children and families together whenever possible.

“There is no legitimate reason why these children need to be separated from their parents. Community-based alternatives to detention programs, like intensive case management and referrals to social services and legal resources have been shown to increase the likelihood that immigrants appear at court proceedings. These methods are significantly more cost-effective and allow families to stay together while their cases are being processed,” the senators wrote. “The Vera Institute of Justice - Appearance Assistance Program (AAP) operated in New York City from February 1997 to March 2000. It found that at the end of the project, over 90% of participants had attended all required court hearings, and that supervision was 55% less expensive than detention for asylum seekers and 15% less expensive for lawful permanent residents with criminal records. These are clearly more humane and effective methods than family separation.”

Citing the American Academy of Pediatrics, the senators stressed the short- and long-term damage to these children from being unnecessarily separated from their families. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump’s so-called “zero-tolerance” policy in May of 2018, it is likely that hundreds more children have been separated from their parents and are being held in detention centers and other institutional facilities. The Senate letter echoes the message of more than 540 state and national child development, child welfare and juvenile justice groups from all 50 states that sent a similar letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen.

In addition to the letter to the President, today, Udall and Heinrich also cosponsored the Keep Families Together Act to prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from taking children from their parents at the border. The legislation was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children and is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center and the Young Center for Immigrant Rights.

The New Mexico senators believe Congress should immediately hold congressional hearings on the Trump Administration’s inhumane family separation policy and advance this legislation to protect these children, many of them refugees seeking asylum.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

President Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

We are writing to ask that you reverse course on your Administration’s inhumane decision to separate children from their parents at the border. This policy has traumatized children who are fleeing extreme violence. Our government has a humanitarian duty to the children and families seeking asylum in the United States to end this policy immediately.

Your Administration’s decision to separate children from their parents at the border is cruel, unnecessary, and goes against our values as Americans. Furthermore, reports that the Administration is considering measures that would make it more difficult for parents and relatives to sponsor children in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody also raise serious concerns. Many of the children and families arriving at our Southwest border have escaped horrific violence and persecution in their home countries. The decision to use this separation tactic as a “deterrent” is not only frighteningly callous, but demonstrates willful ignorance of the violence and unlivable circumstances many families are risking their lives to escape.

Separating a child from his or her parents has lasting, harmful, and traumatizing impacts. These separations have been shown to increase anxiety and depression among children that have already experienced significant trauma in their home countries and along their journey to the United States. As the President of the American Academy for Pediatrics stated, “highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child's brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress - known as toxic stress - can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

In recognition of the trauma associated with removing children from their parents and the adverse effects of unnecessary institutionalization, our national foster care policies have moved in a direction that prioritizes keeping families together and decreasing the use of congregate care. Best practices in child welfare promote keeping children and their parents safely together unless removal is in the child’s best interest. Unnecessarily separating more children from their parents will further exacerbate the lack of family-based foster care placements available and increase the use of large-capacity institutional settings, such as abandoned military bases, to house these children. White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, recently remarked that children separated from their parents can be placed in “foster care or whatever.” This comment fails to recognize the best interest of children as well as the lack of resources our country currently allocates to support quality child welfare services.

There is no legitimate reason why these children need to be separated from their parents. Community-based alternatives to detention programs, like intensive case management and referrals to social services and legal resources, have been shown to increase the likelihood that immigrants appear at court proceedings. These methods are significantly more cost-effective and allow families to stay together while their cases are being processed. The Vera Institute of Justice - Appearance Assistance Program (AAP) operated in New York City from February 1997 to March 2000. It found that at the end of the project, over 90% of participants had attended all required court hearings, and that supervision was 55% less expensive than detention for asylum seekers and 15% less expensive for lawful permanent residents with criminal records. These are clearly more humane and effective methods than family separation or family detention.

We ask that your Administration rescind this unethical, ineffective, and inhumane policy and instead prioritize approaches that align with our humanitarian and American values.

Sincerely,