Real Solutions to the Trump Administration’s Unconscionable Policies Toward Children and Families Seeking Asylum
By Michelle Brané, senior director, Migrant Rights and Justice program, Women’s Refugee Commission
The Trump administration’s deterrence-at-all-costs policies have caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis at our border. Children who have fled unspeakable violence and poverty are being brutally mistreated on American soil — forced to spend weeks in overcrowded, dirty cells without soap, toothbrushes, or beds. Children are getting sick, being fed uncooked frozen food, and being forced to care for younger children, some as young as four months. Since December, at least five children have died while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and just this week another child and her father died in a desperate attempt to seek a better life. And as if all of this were not enough, families are still being separated, ripped apart by the government with no plans to reunify them, despite a judge’s order a year ago to reunite families.
Instead of working to address the situation at the border, the Trump administration continues to double down on these cruel and misguided policies aimed at stopping people from seeking safety and protection at our border and detaining them when they do. These policies needlessly harm children and families, and only exacerbate the crisis.
The administration wants you to believe they have no choice but to be cruel. They want you to believe there is no solution to the problem they have created. But that is not true. The Women’s Refugee Commission, along with our partners, has identified many solutions to this crisis, including:
- Stop needlessly separating children from their parents or caretakers at the border. It creates additional unaccompanied children that the system cannot accommodate. The sole purpose of this practice is to deter people from seeking asylum — their legal right.
- Hire child welfare workers at the border to help safely and humanely process, care for, and transfer or release children out of CBP custody.
- Spend resources more wisely. Invest in legal, common sense solutions to the current humanitarian needs at the border. And focus on expanding shelter capacity instead of spending massive amounts on influx facilities. They are unsanitary, cruel, do not meet basic child welfare standards, and cost more than appropriate shelters.
- Stop sharing sensitive information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that prevents the release and reunification of children in the community. Many of these children have families and loved ones here, but the threat of deportation prevents their families from coming forward to claim them, resulting in children being detained for far longer than necessary, if not indefinitely.
- Stop metering and the Remain in Mexico (also known as MPP) program that sends asylum seekers back into Mexico to wait for hearings — putting them in extreme danger and driving them to desperate life threatening measures like crossing the river or desert.
- Modernize ports of entry and upgrade the asylum and immigration court systems to provide timely and fair decisions.
- Expand access to legal support. The system runs more smoothly when children and adults seeking asylum have attorneys to represent them in court. Currently, children as young as toddlers have to go to court with no judge and no attorney to represent them.
- Reinstitute alternatives to detention that were over 95% effective in ensuring compliance for adults and families. Detention is a choice; it is not required by law.
- Support efforts to build the capacity of countries in the region to provide asylum, host, protect, and integrate refugees.
Each of these steps could be taken IMMEDIATELY to alleviate some of the burden caused by this administration.
In the longer term, the administration must address the root causes of migration from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in order to reduce the need for families to seek safety and survival by migrating. The administration should reverse its recent decision to end funding to these countries and instead provide well-targeted assistance that focuses on reducing structural poverty, addressing gang and gender-based violence, combating corruption, and strengthening human rights and the rule of law.
This isn’t a zero-sum game. We can both protect our country AND rescue people fleeing violence and persecution. It’s time for the administration to do the right thing and treat all asylum seekers fairly and humanely.