Family Values at the Border

Yesterday Juvenile Law Center proudly joined over 130 experts demanding that the Trump administration abandon an ill-conceived, heartbreaking proposal to separate children from their families at our nation’s borders. In testimony before the Judiciary Committee yesterday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen refused to rule out implementation of such a directive when questioned. How could we devolve to allow such a misguided practice in the name of the United States of America?

No child welfare expert is in favor of such an abusive policy. For nearly a year, the federal government has floated a policy to remove immigrant children from their parents without any charge of abuse by the parents. This evokes images from the darkest moments in history of government officials wrenching children from the arms of parents who are not afforded the basic human right of family integrity.

Families seeking a better life for their children arrive at our borders every day. Exhausted, uncertain, often at the end of a long road from countries in Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, they arrive as immigrants have throughout our history. While the government has the authority to monitor and protect our borders, how we do that defines us as a nation. Under current policy, if entrants do not have proper documentation, officials at our borders keep family members together. The new policy would separate children from their parents, incarcerating the parents and moving the children to juvenile facilities or foster care under the already-overburdened child protection agencies in states throughout the country.

This violates law at every level: international human rights, the United States Constitution which recognizes the fundamental right to family, federal law that requires that children remain with their families absent risk of harm from their parents, and the laws of all 50 states that mandate that states make efforts to keep families together. It violates our moral code as a nation and our oft-lauded family values at the core of our American culture.

Separating children from their parents flies against everything we know about child development and the impact of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Temporary or permanent loss of a parent under such harsh circumstances could stay with children for their lifetime, resulting in long-term physical health and mental health consequences.

Juvenile Law Center opposes any policy that does not recognize and respect the critical role of family in the life of a child. Our government should support families — not destroy them -no matter their country of origin. We join with our legal, medical, mental health, religious and other partners in opposition to the gross misuse of our government’s authority that would separate children from their parents when they enter our country.