On the eve of Mother’s Day, the Trump administration formalized a policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, a practice that, in recent months, has already led to the separation of hundreds of families.
The new policy is a cruel response to immigrants seeking asylum (safety) in the United States, many of whom are mothers with young children fleeing gang violence and domestic violence in Central America. It is designed to deter families from coming to the U.S., but will only add to the trauma families have already endured.
Under the policy, which applies to anyone crossing between ports of entry, parents are placed in adult detention centers while children are sent either to live with relatives or to shelters for unaccompanied minors (and possibly, in the near future, to military bases). Detaining parents and children in this way costs an average of $620 per dayversus $5 per day for Alternative to Detention programs.
Parents will also be prosecuted for illegal entry and, in some cases, child smuggling. When a mother takes her child on a perilous journey, hoping to find safety in the U.S., it is not child smuggling. It is a courageous act to keep her child safe. Furthermore, crossing the border in this manner is not an illegal act. The right to request asylum is recognized in international and U.S. law.
A Mennonite pastor shared the story of Delia,* an asylum seeker she visits regularly in a detention center and who was forcibly separated from her son. Delia crossed the border with her 9-year-old son 10 months ago. Shortly after arrival, Border Patrol officers took her son away, telling her, “You may never see him again.” Delia’s son was sent across the country to live with his uncle who had not been prepared to care for a child alone. The boy writes his mother, “I miss you, Mom. I love you so much. You and I have to be strong, Mom. I want you to come out, Mommy, because I miss you…But we have to be strong, Mommy.”
Since October, more than 700 children have been taken from their parents in this way, including more than 100 under the age of four. Mirian was separated from her 18-month old son when they arrived at the border in February. A caseworker at the shelter where he was placed told Mirian he “cried all the time” and was struggling with illness.
When Ms. L* crossed the border with her daughter late last year, immigration officials found that she had a credible fear of death or persecution if she was returned to her home country. Nevertheless, her 6-year-old daughter was taken from her and held in a shelter for four months. She turned seven, alone and scared in a strange country, and was released only after a lawsuit and media attention.
In Matthew 18, Jesus said, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father … So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
There is nothing to be gained by tearing children away from loving parents – and so much to be lost. Send a letter to the White House and your members of Congress encouraging them to keep families together.
* Names changed to protect identity.