A cruel abandonment of the ‘least of these’

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 6/25/2018, 10:47 p.m.
“Little kids are begging and screaming not to be taken from parents, and they’re hauled off. Parents are telling their ...

Children's Defense Fund

“Little kids are begging and screaming not to be taken from parents, and they’re hauled off. Parents are telling their older kids, ‘Be brave, be brave.’ It’s as bad as anything I’ve seen in 25-plus years of doing this work.” – ACLU immigration attorney Lee Gelernt

Once again Americans are at a crossroads struggling to decide who we are and want to be as a nation and whether the current Administration’s policies reflect our values or revolt many of us at our core.

The Children’s Defense Fund several times this year has joined what has grown now to 540 national and other organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico with expertise in child development, early childhood, child health, child welfare, and juvenile justice on a letter urging the Trump Administration to abandon its harsh and indefensible abusive child traumatizing order to separate children from their parents upon arrival at or near the U.S. border. In May Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy that requires prosecuting everyone who crosses the border illegally and separating children from their parents.

Many parents charged with crossing the border illegally – even those seeking asylum as they try to escape threats to their lives in their own countries – are being detained in adult immigration detention centers and/or are being summarily deported. Children are being taken away from their parents, transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, and placed in facilities across the country. HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement assumes responsibility for caring for these traumatized children and finding alternative caregivers. In just two weeks in May 2018 as many as 658 children were separated from their parents. Now we even hear reports that some parents are being deported while their children are being left behind.

As a mother and grandmother, I can’t fathom such cruelty. These abusive policies lack any semblance of common and moral decency. CDF and hundreds of organizations must continue to protest this cruelty in every possible manner and have said, “We fear these actions will have significant and long-lasting consequences for the safety, health, development and well-being of children.” This harsh and cruel snatching and separation of children from parents must stop now!

There is overwhelming evidence children need to be nurtured and cared for by parents to feel and be safe and healthy, and that separating them leads to serious, negative consequences to children’s health and development after they are reunited, disrupting the parent-child relationship and increasing children’s risk of physical and mental illness. Adverse childhood experiences, including a family member’s incarceration, are well-recognized precursors of negative child and mental health outcomes later in life.

The joint letter points out that family unity is a foundational principle of U.S. child welfare law – even if often breached in practice. Parents’ rights to the care and custody of their children are afforded particularly strong protection under the U.S. Constitution. Both state and federal law underscore this principle by providing strong incentives for states to keep children safely with their parents and provide services to families to prevent separation and maintain family unity. And the laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia require that children not be separated from families without evidence that a specific parent posed a threat to the safety and well-being of his or her child.