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Immigrants’ Rights

Family Separation Betrays Our Values and Does Nothing to Make America Safer or Stronger

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Media reports are piling up that illustrate in stark, heartbreaking detail the cruelty of family separation, including a five-year-old clinging to a stick figure family drawing and the death by suicide of a father separated from his wife and child. As noted in a letter to President Trump sent by People For the American Way and allied organizations, such inhumanity betrays our values. It does nothing to make America safer or stronger. All it does is add to the long list of base-pandering, anti-immigrant policies carried out in the first seventeen months of the Trump administration. You can download our letter here.

Dear President Trump,

We, the undersigned national, state, and local organizations write to urge you to end the systematic and cruel separation of families apprehended at the U.S. border. Increased family separation at the border comes at a time when immigration enforcement has already torn apart families across the country, at places of worship, schools, and workplaces. Mothers and fathers who have lived in the U.S. for decades are being forced to decide whether they should leave their American children behind in the care of others for a secure and brighter future, or take them with them to a country now foreign to them. Children and young people are having to grow up fast as their mothers and fathers are forcibly taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

These tactics are devastating American communities. Most recently, however, this administration’s policies are resulting in another needless, self-made crisis: that of hundreds of parents and children—many of whom are seeking asylum in this country—torn apart thanks to the Justice Department’s and Department of Homeland Security’s recent “zero tolerance” policy, which calls for the prosecution of all who cross our southwest border. This policy traumatizes families, undermines our country’s once honored commitment to ensuring fairness and protection for those fleeing persecution, and only exacerbates the burdens already overwhelming our immigration system. We now know that more than 700 children have been separated from their families between October 2017 and April 2018, and that nearly that many—638 adults traveling with 658 children—have been torn apart in just two weeks since the new policy took effect in early May. These families came to United States seeking safety and a better life only to be subjected to callous cruelty.

To be clear, those families seeking protection in the United States are not exploiting loopholes in U.S. law. The right to seek asylum here is enshrined in domestic and international law, and does not guarantee any one family protection. Indeed, it has been extensively documented that those seeking protection face enormous obstacles to making a claim or doing so, especially from immigration detention. These challenges are unspeakably exacerbated when combined with the trauma of separation from one’s parent or one’s child. Family separation also comes at an enormous cost to the U.S. taxpayer, who foots the bill for the separate detention of parents and children, the cost of criminal prosecution, and the costs of what are now two or more separate immigration court cases rather than a single case for one family.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned these policies, saying that “highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress—known as toxic stress—can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

We are appalled that these policies are being implemented at the same time that ICE is indiscriminately targeting undocumented immigrants and doubling down on home and workplace raids. Immigrant parents and caregivers who have lived in U.S. for decades are being forcibly taken away, leaving a trail of countless American children without their mothers and fathers. Together with your administration’s decision to strip over a million people of either Temporary Protected Status or DACA, these actions are forcing countless parents to leave behind their families, their businesses, their communities, and the country they proudly call home.

Tearing apart families does nothing to make us safer or stronger, and separating children from their parents betrays our deeply held American values.

We demand that you end these callous and cruel policies against immigrants and their families immediately.