President Trump's Family Separation Policy

June 21, 2018
Dear Friends,

This is a special E-Newsletter regarding one subject only—the ongoing crisis in our country of children being separated from parents and placed in detention centers. I will be traveling to Texas tomorrow with House colleagues to examine the detention centers and hopefully meet with detainees in Brownsville and McAllen. As a Member of Congress, I was informed by federal officials that I had to ask permission two weeks ahead of time to seek entry to the jails and meet with detainees.

The Trump Administration announced its “zero-tolerance” policy in April, and since then approximately 2,500 children have been separated from their parents and placed in metal cages. The President claims he is required by law to do this. This is a lie. There is no such law. The decision to prosecute all migrants who cross the border unlawfully, including asylum seekers and families with young children, is a choice, not a legal requirement.

Our laws are specific as they relate to refugees. Because they’ve fled violence and persecution in their home countries, they have a legal right to seek asylum in the U.S. after proving their case in our legal system. Our laws are also specific about how minor children, babies and toddlers are to be treated. The Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997 (which was part of a class-action lawsuit challenging the treatment of unaccompanied minors), requires that children in the custody of ICE can only be held for 20 days or less, must then be transferred to the Office of Refugee Settlement which places them in the care of a relative or suitable foster family while their parents are prosecuted. No previous president from either party has interpreted our laws to require mass, indiscriminate separation of families. 

The only difference between the above and the Executive Order signed by the President yesterday is that families will now be jailed together. Holding children indefinitely in ICE custody is not a solution to this crisis, and I expect the courts will determine that the Executive Order violates the Flores Settlement Agreement. Additionally, the Executive Order does not provide any guidance as to how the approximately 2,500 young children who have been disbursed across the country will be reunited with their parents. Some experts say they never will be.

Because the President refuses to permanently end this policy, over 190 House Members introduced the Keep Families Together Act this week which definitively ends family separation at the border. Specifically, the bill prohibits immigration officials from removing children from their parents except in extreme circumstances if it is determined that the child is endangered by a parent, and delays the prosecution of refugees until their asylum claims are processed. This would end the zero-tolerance policy that has resulted in family separation. I wish the House would pass this bill immediately to permanently end this crisis. 

Separating children from their parents has severe emotional and developmental effects on them, many of whom are under the age of five. The President of the American Academy of Pediatricians has called this policy “government-sanctioned child abuse.” I agree. I’m horrified by what I’m witnessing and I grapple daily with the fact that this is happening in my country, and that it’s being done in your name and mine.  

We are a nation of laws. We are also a nation of values. Separating families is antithetical to our beliefs. By treating refugees as criminals and family separation as their punishment, the President betrays the values that have made our country a beacon of hope and light around the world. That’s why so many faith groups including the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the National Association of Evangelicals have condemned this policy. Pope Francis said yesterday, “A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity.” 

Business leaders have condemned the “zero-tolerance” policy. Airlines have stated they will not profit by transporting children to parts unknown. The American people have risen up and decried this shameful undertaking, including over 1,000 of my constituents who have contacted me to express their opposition. We know that the family unit is the core of society and no government should ever destroy it.                                                                                             

I will share the findings of my trip to Texas with you as soon as possible, and I thank you for your calls and your messages of conscience which I draw great strength from. 

Most gratefully,

Anna G. Eshoo