Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights Commends Child Welfare Experts’ Overwhelming Opposition to Parent-Child Separation

June 13, 2018 by stephenshubert

DACAEarlyChildhoodBrief-via electronic mail

June 7, 2018

The Honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security 3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20016

Renewed Appeal from Experts in Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice and Child Development to Halt the Separation of Children from Parents at the Border

Dear Secretary Nielsen:

We represent 540 organizations from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that have well-recognized expertise in the fields of child welfare, juvenile justice and child health, development and safety. We first sent this letter to you on January 16, 2018 and resubmitted the letter on January 23, 2018 to include additional organizations. Since then, DHS implemented a systematic practice of separating children from their parents—as many as 658 children in just two weeks in May 20181—and our ranks grew by more than 300 organizations.

We write again today, after the formal implementation of practices to separate immigrant families, to renew our shared concern that your agency is harming children by taking them from their parents to deter or punish parents and children who come to our border seeking protection. The separation of children from their parents to deter migration, or to punish migration, will have significant and long-lasting consequences for the safety, health, development, and well-being of children. We therefore urgently request that the Administration reverse course on its practice of separating families at the border.

Countless reports have documented that these families are fleeing persecution and violence in their countries, and come here seeking protection. While many come from Central American countries, the parents and children arrive at our border from all over the world, including countries in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Since early May, DHS in collaboration with the Department of Justice has routinely separated immigrant children from their parents and families. Parents may be placed in adult immigration detention centers and/or summarily deported, while their children are transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in facilities across the country—as far away as Illinois, Washington, New York, Florida, and Michigan. HHS bears the responsibility of caring for the traumatized children and finding suitable, alternative caregivers.

1 See Testimony of Richard Hudson, Deputy Chief of Operations Program for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before Senate Judiciary Committee, May 23 (2018), available at alien-children.

The children could remain in government care for months or more than a year, during which time the continued separation from their parents would compound their trauma and the time it would take them to recover and return to a trajectory of good health and normal development. Nor does it make any sense to require the children to participate in a formal legal proceeding about their immigration case while separated from the parent who brought them here, who may have critical information—or the only information—about the child’s claim for protection.

There is overwhelming evidence that children need to be cared for by their parents to be safe and healthy, to grow and develop.2 Likewise, there is ample evidence that separating children from their mothers or fathers leads to serious, negative consequences to children’s health and development.3 Forced separation disrupts the parent-child relationship and puts children at increased risk for both physical and mental illness. Adverse childhood experiences—including the incarceration of a family member—are well-recognized precursors of negative health outcomes later in life.4 And the psychological distress, anxiety, and depression associated with separation from a parent would follow the children well after the immediate period of separation—even after eventual reunification with a parent or other family. We are deeply concerned that recent agency actions institutionalize such harm by taking children from their parents as a matter of policy.

Family unity is a foundational principle of child welfare law. In order to grow and develop, children need to remain in the care of their parents where they are loved, nurtured and feel safe. Thus parents’ rights to the care and custody of their children are afforded particularly strong protection under the U.S. Constitution.5 While parent-child relationships are generally the province of state law, federal law also recognizes the principle of family unity by providing strong incentives for states to keep children with their parents and to provide services to families to prevent separation and maintain family unity.6 The administration’s current policies and practices eviscerate that principle.

2 See, e.g., American Psychological Assn, Parents and Caregivers are Essential to Children’s Healthy Development, available at
3 See, e.g., Sankaran, Vivek, Church, Christopher, “Easy Come, Easy Go: The Plight of Children Who Spend Less than 30 Days in Foster Care,” 19 U. Pa. J. L. Soc. Change 207 (2017) (identifying harms to children arising from even short-term separation from a parent’s custody as a result of state action); and Zayas LH, Aguilar-Gaxiola S, Yoon H, Rey GN, “The Distress of Citizen-Children with Detained and Deported Parents,” J. Child & Fam. Studies, 2015; 24(11):3213-3223 (the arrest and separation of parents “serve[s] only to complete the trauma, and the certain detrimental impact on the children’s mental health.”).

4See, e.g., Dube SR, Cook ML, Edwards VJ, Health-related Outcomes of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Texas, 2002, Prev Chronic Dis., 2010; 7(3):A52, available at may/09_0158.htm.
5 See, e.g., Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753 (1982) (a parent’s right to the care and custody of her child is a fundamental liberty interest).

6 See U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau, Child Welfare Information Gateway, Reasonable Efforts to Preserve or Reunify Families and Achieve Permanency for Children, (March 2016), available at (“Federal law has long required State agencies to demonstrate that reasonable efforts have been made to provide assistance and services to prevent the removal of a child from his or her home.”).

Page 2 of 13

For all of these reasons, we urge you to abandon current policies and practices that systematically separate children from their families absent evidence that a specific parent posed a threat to the safety and well-being of his or her child, as required by the laws of all 50 states. Should you have any questions about the serious concerns raised in this letter, or wish to respond to us directly, please contact MaryLee Allen, Director of Policy, Children’s Defense Fund at


Supported by these Washington Organizations:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics –

Washington Chapter

  • Children’s Alliance
  • Legal Counsel for Youth and Children
  • National Association of Pediatric Nurse

Practitioners – Washington Chapter

  • Northwest Resource Associates
  • Partners for our Children
  • Treehouse
  • Washington State Association of Head

Start and ECEAP

Child seperation

%d bloggers like this: