Administration’s Plan to Forcibly Separate Children From Their Parents is Unconscionable

Photo by Benjamin Voros

Photo by Benjamin Voros

On the eve of the holidays, the Department of Homeland Security is threatening to take children away from their parents when they arrive at the border. This has been happening on an ad hoc basis, but under this policy, all children would be separated. Parents would be sent to adult immigration detention facilities. Their children, regardless of age, would be taken away and transferred to children’s facilities spread across the United States. The government’s articulated purpose: to deter other families from making the journey to the United States.

“Tearing children away from their parents in this manner, and for this reason, is unconscionable and violates basic legal principles,” said Maria Woltjen, Executive Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. Under federal law and the law of every state, every child has the right to remain in their parents’ care unless they pose a specific threat to the child’s safety. Although our laws vary state by state, the foundational principle is family unity: keeping children with their parents, where they are loved and feel safe, where they can grow and develop. Likewise, all parents have a fundamental right to care for their children unless they are determined by a judge to be unfit.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security is threatening to remove children from their parents solely to send a message to other families that they should not come to the United States, even to seek protection from persecution. That plan would violate the child protection laws of all 50 states and inflict life-long trauma on these children, children our laws are designed to protect.

Imagine a toddler, taken from her mother just after coming to the border; they are fleeing violence that the government in their home country cannot control. A five-year-old taken away from his father and flown across the country to a federal children’s shelter while his father, who fled political persecution, is detained in Texas. The separation could be months, or even years long.

This is not the first time the federal government has threatened to take children from their parents across the board. In March 2017, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that children would be taken from their mothers and fathers to send a message. Six weeks later, after an outcry by children’s advocates, the decision was reversed.

Children are children—deserving of special care. The courts knowDoctors know. And every parent knows. “You don’t use children to send a message” says Woltjen.

Maddie Witters