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Debbie Weinstein's picture

When a mother and child flee to an entry point along the U.S. border, seeking asylum from violence in their home country, they have endured threats to their lives. The U.S. has every right to investigate their claims, but it has long done so in accordance with national and international standards. With Attorney General Sessions’ recent announcement of a “zero tolerance” policy towards parents and children crossing the border, humane standards have been abandoned. There has been a rapid acceleration in prosecution of parents, which means their children are taken from them. Toddlers taken away crying; mothers not knowing where they are going, unable to contact them for weeks or months.

This is shameful.

Such a cruel and harmful policy must be rejected by Americans. We must say of this reprehensible practice, “Not in our name.” Surely it is still an essential part of our values that we protect children – we do not harm them.

Unsurprisingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics decries these actions. AAP’s President, Dr. Colleen Kraft, issued a statement on May 8, in part saying:

“Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians – protecting and promoting children’s health. In fact, 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.”

Contrary to the assertions of the Trump Administration, no law requires prosecuting parents. Parents and children have been allowed to remain together, perhaps briefly detained but then released into the community and required to appear at hearings to determine the validity of their request for asylum. This is not an easy process; many families are not approved. But the decision to prosecute and incarcerate parents is intended to deny them a hearing on their refugee or asylee claims. Ripping children from their parents is intended to dissuade people from coming, regardless of the violence they are fleeing.

During the period from May 6 to May 19, 638 parents with 658 children were “processed for prosecution,” according to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official. The parents are incarcerated, and the children are placed in the custody of the H.H.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. HHS seeks a relative in the U.S. to take the child, but because more information is now being collected about the immigrant status of possible sponsors, some relatives are more frightened to come forward, and children are staying longer in the custody of HHS. According to the Washington Post, the percentage of children in HHS custody without a sponsor increased from 7 to 10 percent during 2017. The number of beds used for long-term foster care has doubled, to nearly 600. Adding hundreds more children to the HHS caseload so rapidly will place great strains on the system, likely slowing down their release to a sponsor.

The ACLU is suing the Administration for taking children away from mothers. In addition, bills have been filed in Congress to stop this cruelty, including

  • H.R. 2572 – Protect Family Values at the Border Act
  • H.R. 5950/S. 2937 – the HELP Separated Children Act
  • H.R. 2043/S. 2468 – Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2018

What can we do? Speak out, as we’ve been called to do on today’s National Day of Action for Children. Many events are taking place nationwide, co-sponsored by We Belong Together, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, MomsRising, MamásConPoder, the ACLU, United We Dream, MoveOn and other groups, including the Coalition on Human Needs. There’s a toolkitwith all the information you need, and we all need to continue to speak out after June 1. We can ask our members of Congress to co-sponsor the legislation listed above, ask them to visit detention sites and to demand answers from the Administration, and work to deny funding to the Department of Homeland Security for enforcement of this “zero tolerance” policy. We can write letters to the editor and use social media.

But we cannot stand idly by while children are hurt. Not in our name.

This post was originally published on the Coalition on Human Needs' blog, Voices for Human Needs. Receive similar articles in your inbox by subscribing today, and follow CHN on Facebook and Twitter.

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