Monday, May 28, 2018

On separating children from parents

We pause from the lighthearted stuff for a little while. Here's a letter I am sending to my senators and congressperson. After this letter, for this blog, I added some links at the end to places that are "on the ground" -- a senate report, a report from a refugee commission, and a set of question/answer cards from a previous immigration surge.


Dear Senator/Congressperson X,

I am writing to you a citizen who is deeply troubled by the recent announcement of Jeff Sessions that my government is implementing and enforcing a policy of separating children from their parents at our borders. This policy is likely to create incredible lasting harm and trauma for many thousands of children, and I am deeply disturbed that my elected officials would have any part in promoting or condoning such actions.

I am the mother of six children, three of whom we adopted, two of them from the foster-to-adopt program. I am personally very familiar with, and grateful to, the Pennsylvania SWAN (State-Wide Adoption Network) for their support in our adoption and their work with children in foster care. And yet I have seen in my own children and in the other foster children I have come to know how incredibly damaging it is to be separated from a birth parent, and how much care and patience it requires --- for years and decades after that separation --- to help the child learn to manage such a painful and disorienting transition.

Removing children from their parents by force does unconscionable harm to the children, and my country should have no part in that. This statement is not just an opinion from a random parent; it is also grounded in medical expertise: the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that authorities should “exercise caution to ensure that the emotional and physical stress children experience as they seek refuge in the United States is not exacerbated by the additional trauma of being separated from their siblings, parents or other relatives and caregivers.”

I know from my years of parenting step-children and adopted children that even when a parent is neglectful, abusive, or incapacitated, children usually want nothing more to be back with that parent. How much worse is it, then, to remove a child from parents who are trying to help their family escape from poverty, strife, and danger? This policy---which is promoted as “prosecuting” and punishing adults who have “cross[ed] the border unlawfully”---traumatizes the children and has the potential for life-long damage.

In addition to the proposal being morally unconscionable, the proposal seems to me to contradict many of our own country’s laws and guiding principles. As the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) has noted,

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the right to family unity is “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000). Further, the Supreme Court has held that a parent’s right to the care and custody of his or her child “has been deemed essential, [a] basic civil right of man, and rights far more precious than property rights.” Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972).

And in spite of Session’s claims that this proposal targets people who enter the country “illegally”, the evidence from numerous groups, including the WRC and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), is that families are separated after they legally “turned themselves in to seek asylum”.

I am heartened at past efforts our legislators have taken to monitor and mitigate the harm that comes to children who come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I’m grateful in particular that Senators Portman (R, Ohio) and McCaskill (D, Missouri) spearheaded the report on HHS weaknesses in properly caring for “Unaccompanied Alien Children”. I know that our system is already burdened -- indeed, overburdened -- caring for children who enter the U.S. without their families. We should have no part in adding to the burden of these institutions by asking these same organizations to take on the task of overseeing children whose families accompanied them.

There has to be a better solution.

Here's a link to the United States Senate Report that describes the 1400+ children who were "lost" by HHS. It's a a 51-page report, but the executive summary is only 3 pages and very readable.

Here's a link to the recent WRC (Women's Refugee Commission) report. The report ends with 15 ``representative'' cases in which asylum seekers presenting themselves and their passports legally were separated from family members. It begins with a formal complaint indicating that these cases are part of a much larger, and more troubling pictures.
The complaint highlights an alarming number of instances in which family members who arrived together at the U.S. border appeared to have been separated by U.S. immigration officials without a clear or reasonable justification, as a means of punishment and/or deterrence, and with few mechanisms to locate, contact, or reunite with family members. The complaint also includes case examples of separation involving toddlers as young as two years old who were effectively rendered “unaccompanied” due to separation from their parents.

Here's a link to a set of Question/answer cards from VOX on an earlier immigration crunch (in 2014). This was a situation that seemed superficially similar, with a large increase in people entering the U.S. from the south, and with President Obama opening mass detention centers for families with children. The VOX cards (which were compiled in 2015) have 12 questions and answers, including, "What happened to families that got caught trying to enter the US in 2014?" and "When did the child migrant crisis end, and why?" I found this set of questions to be refreshingly straightforward.


  1. Thank you for this. I'm going to be calling again tomorrow using the 5calls link.

  2. Thanks for sharing your text.