Young Center Leads Coordinated Effort to Stop Government Plans to Take Children From Their Parents

Photo by Caroline Hernandez

Photo by Caroline Hernandez

The Young Center is leading an effort to bring together child protection organizations to urge the Administration to abandon plans to separate children from their parents at the border. We’re doing this in response to multiple reports that the Department of Homeland Security is poised to launch a new policy where all immigrant children of a certain age (girls and boys 10 and older) will be taken from their parents at the border by Homeland Security officials. The government has stated that this action is intended to deter vulnerable families from seeking protection at the U.S. border even though it is their right under U.S. and international law to come to ask for help. 

Although the policy has not yet been implemented across the board, we’ve seen it happening for months. Since last summer, the Young Center has been appointed as Child Advocate for increasing numbers of children who have been forcibly separated from their parents at the border. The parents are jailed in immigration facilities or summarily deported, while the children are transferred to facilities for children that are spread across the country—typically hundreds if not thousands of miles from their parents. The children, whether toddlers or teenagers, are traumatized by these separations. While our volunteers meet weekly with the children and provide a caring and stable adult presence, our staff fight to ensure regular contact and communication between children and their parents, to facilitate the children’s safe release from government custody to a parent who's been released or another relative, or to ensure the parent and child’s reunification in their home country.

As part of our policy work, the Young Center is focused on building a collaborative of children’s rights organizations in different fields to coordinate strategy on issues affecting children in child welfare, juvenile justice and immigration systems. With the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Young Center convened a one-day meeting of children’s advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C. in November 2017. The idea was to create a high profile, cross-disciplinary and national network of children’s advocates able to respond promptly, vocally and with a unified message to policy threats that arise in 2018. Participants included the Children’s Defense Fund, Juvenile Law Center, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America, Center for Children’s Law, UNICEF and others.

In response to this new threat of mass family separation, the Young Center drafted a letter of opposition on behalf of organizations with expertise in child welfare, juvenile justice and child development to tell the Administration that such a policy would unquestionably harm vulnerable children. With the support of the network that had convened just weeks earlier in Washington, we garnered the support of more than 50 national organizations and more than 150 state and local child welfare organizations around the country. The letter, “Urgent Appeal from Experts in Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice and Child Development to Halt Any Plans to Separate Children from Parents at the Border,” was submitted to the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen on Tuesday, January 18, shortly before she testified before the Senate. During that hearing, she flatly refused to rule out a policy of parent-child separation. Our hope is that coordinated efforts such as this one—in combination with vocal support from immigrant rights’ organizations and their supporters, like you—will stop the Administration from implementing this horrific policy. 

Maddie Witters