The Trump Administration recently announced a new policy of systematically ripping children from the arms of migrant mothers and fathers at the U.S. border as punishment for coming to the U.S. There are babies as young as 18 months old being taken away from their parents at the border.
Yes, that is now the official U.S. policy. Let that sink in.
This new family separation policy is consistent with Trump’s immigration strategy, which is founded on tearing families apart and instilling fear in immigrant communities. Additionally, this new family separation policy is being conflated with a separate issue related to unaccompanied children who arrive at our southern U.S. border, and who are then often allowed to reunite with family members living in the U.S.
As a result, there is a significant amount of confusion about what’s really happening. This resource aims to clarify both stories and tell you what you can do.
First, who are unaccompanied minors?
You may be hearing a lot about immigrant kids known as “unaccompanied children” (legally called “Unaccompanied Alien Children”), which refers to minors who arrive at the Southwest border without an adult (be it a parent, other family member, or other adult guardian figure). Every year, thousands of unaccompanied children arrive at the U.S. border, mainly from Central America, fleeing the death and violence of their home countries.
Unaccompanied children are released to family members when possible. When an unaccompanied minor is apprehended at the border by CBP, they are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services, which retains custody of the children while they search for family members or sponsors who can take custody while the child undergoes immigration removal process. In the case that family members cannot be located, the children are sometimes released to sponsors who agree to take care of them. Prior to their release, ORR screens the family or sponsor to ensure the child’s safety. 30 days after releasing the child, ORR calls the designated guardian to ensure that the child is doing well.
The key thing to remember: UACs are immigrant kids who arrive at the U.S. without a guardian or parent. What the U.S. Government is now doing is taking kids from their parents and calling them UACs.
Let’s get the facts straight: children aren’t “missing”
In April, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had lost track of around 1,500 unaccompanied minors who had been placed with sponsors by the agency. According to the report, officials at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (which has jurisdiction over unaccompanied immigrant minors) were unable to get in contact with 1,475 children out of 7,635 who had been released between last October to the end of 2017. The report has garnered outrage online through the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren.
There are lots of reasons why ORR may not have been able to reach immigrant children. Certainly, there are badly needed improvements that need to be made to ensure that children who are released from ORR receive the support they need. But just because ORR was unable to reach these 1475 children when they attempted to contact them, doesn’t mean they’re missing. There are a number of reasons why ORR might have had difficulty, including the fact that many of these children may now be with sponsors who might be undocumented and afraid of being targeted by immigration enforcement. These families may have gone into hiding to protect themselves from ICE and the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies. Or the reason that ORR was unable to reach a child may be something as simple as no one was home to take the call, or their telephone number was recently changed. So, this may not be as bad as it looks.
There are additional risks: The Trump administration may respond to the outcry over this story by halting the release of all unaccompanied minors. We don’t want that. We want these children to be released to family members whenever possible, not detained indefinitely pending removal to an unsafe country.
Another risk is that ICE will use reports of “missing children” to justify new raids of immigrant communities. Given this Administration’s track record, we don’t want to make it any easier for them to further terrorize immigrant communities.
A key thing to remember is that the main issue to focus on right now is the new family separation policy — not these children that are irresponsibly being labeled as “missing.”
What is the New Family Separation Policy?
On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would be implementing a “zero-tolerance” policy for those who entered the country illegally: simply put, anyone — including families — who crosses the Southwest border or attempts to cross the border is subject to criminal prosecution and deportation. Anyone who is charged is jailed, and their children are taken away from them.
Is This New?
Unfortunately, family separation is not new. In fact, take a look at what was happening under President Obama.
However, what is new is the practice of ripping children away from their parents at the border. That's what's happening now as a result of the "zero-tolerance" policy
In previous administrations, parents who were caught at the border were allowed to stay with their children in shelters while their immigration and asylum cases were being adjudicated. Sometimes they were ultimately removed from the U.S., and other times they were able to secure asylum. But the point is that they were allowed to stay together.
Under the new Trump policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“border patrol”) removes the children from their parents and places them in the custody of ORR, designating them as “unaccompanied minors”. Simply put: these children are being made unaccompanied minors by the Trump administration, even though they came here with their parents.
How Bad is This?
This is more than bad: it’s appalling.
In the two weeks since the policy was implemented, over 600 children have already been ripped away from their parents. That includes babies as young as 18 months old being ripped from their mother’s arms and being placed in shelters, with parents not knowing where their children are or whether they are doing ok.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the damage to children by separating them from their parents is severe, and includes depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Right now, the Trump administration is causing hundreds of immigrant children severe damage all for the sake of enforcing a xenophobic agenda.
The Bottom Line
Much of these issues stem from pre-existing problems in our immigration system: last week, the ACLU released a report regarding horrific abuse of immigrant children by CBP between 2009 and 2014. That said, the Trump administration’s actions are an escalation of an already bad system and has the potential to cause long lasting harm. No one in this administration can be trusted to prioritize the wellbeing of immigrant families and children.
What Can You Do?
There’s a lot going on and there’s always risk for things being tangled up and misinformation to spread. Here are the best ways for you to get involved:
- First, focus on family separation: The Trump administration’s actions are inhumane, unnecessary, and cruel. We cannot allow this policy to fall to the wayside as new headlines and stories come out. Avoid using the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren and instead centralize families in your message by using #FamiliesBelongTogether.
- Second, you can call your Senators and Representative to tell them you want them to put a stop to it. While we won't be able to really stop the harm being done until we remove Trump from office, Members of Congress need to be speaking out against what’s happening to immigrant families and demand that the Trump administration put an end to this policy. We’ve included a call script below.
- Third, connect with the experts on this issue. If you'd like more information about what's going on, we encourage you to look at the resources put together by our friends at Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) and the Women's Refugee Commission, who are the experts when it comes to unaccompanied minors.
TELL YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: CONDEMN THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S SEPARATION OF FAMILIES
Your Members of Congress need to speak out against the Trump administration’s cruel separation of children and families and urge them to end this policy.
Find out if your elected officials have already spoken out. If not, urge them to do so as soon as possible. Regardless of party, the Trump administration’s actions deserve universal condemnation.
If they’ve already spoken out, urge them to support legislation that would help reduce harm being caused to children and families.
- In both the House and Senate, there is the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act, which strengthens protections for immigrant families while they are in ICE custody.
SAMPLE CALL SCRIPT
Caller: Hi! My name is [name] and I’m calling from [part of state]. I’m calling today to tell [Senator/Rep] to speak out against the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant families at the Southern border. This policy is cruel and inhumane and needs to stop.
Staffer: Thanks for calling. [Senator/Rep] is currently monitoring the situation and hopes to make an appropriate statement soon. I am happy to convey your message to [him/her/them].
Caller: Yes, please do. I think it’s very important for Congress to speak out against what is happening to families and to practice oversight on the Trump administration’s immigration actions. I’d also like [MoC] to cosponsor the HELP for Separated Children Act, which strengthens protections for immigrant families and children.
Staffer: We’ll be sure to to take a look and pass your message to [Senator/Rep].
Caller: Please do, and please take down my contact information so you can let me know what [Senator/Rep] decides to do.