WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, June 20, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order keeping families together after much resistance to the “Zero-Tolerance Policy.” However, the move fails to address how and when families will reunite. Immediate action must be taken regarding family reunification. Below is a breakdown of how to help children separated from parents at the border.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “Zero-Tolerance Policy” on April 6, 2018. According to the Department of Justice, the policy “prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.”
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions stated at a law enforcement event in Arizona. However, there is no such law requiring children to be separated from parents.
From the policy’s implementation in May up until June 9, nearly 2,300 children have been separated from their parents and are being held in detention centers. These centers — tent cities, old warehouses, and an old Walmart — subject the children to inhumane conditions. One such facility in South Texas is keeping the children in cages made out of metal fencing, housing up to 20 children in one cage.
Limitations of Executive Order
While the executive order is a start in keeping families together, the family reunification process may be running short on time. The order’s provisions against the separation of families lasts only 20 days. CBS News explains that “after the 20-day mark, children may still be separated from their parents.”
In response to the executive order, The New York Times notes, “The order does not say where the families would be detained. And it does not say whether children will continue to be separated from their parents while the facilities to hold them are located or built.”
In 1997, in Flores vs. Reno, the federal court ruled that unaccompanied, undocumented minors could not be held by the government for more than 20 days. In 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals extended this ruling to accompanied, undocumented minors — children who enter the U.S. with their families. Therefore, it is imperative to pursue further change at the Congressional level in order to realize a more permanent solution to keeping families together.
TIME reported that under the Flores v. Reno settlement, immigration officials must “place each detained minor in the least restrictive setting appropriate.” The settlement also requires the release of minors under the age of 18 if they are not facing prosecution. Children under the age of 18, who have relatives to live with, are to leave the detention centers “without unnecessary delay.”
Yet, migrant families have not been granted immediate release. In fact, parents are given little information of their children’s whereabouts, and in some cases, are told that deportation will lead to reunification. This misinformation has resulted in some parents being deported without their children and with little hope of reunification.
Ways to Continue Keeping Families Together
Although the U.S. has ceased the separation of families, immediate and persistent action is crucial to the reunification of families. Here is how to help children separated from parents at the border:
- Call Your Local Congress Member The ACLU recommends directly calling your local Congress members’ offices. Their website will assist callers in finding representatives based on their zip code. A sample message is provided by the ACLU: “Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m asking the Representative to vote NO on Speaker Ryan’s immigration bill. This is an inhumane, unjust bill that will put families in prison camps – we can’t let that be what this country becomes.”
- Email Congress In addition to phoning your Senator, email Congressional offices using an online template provided by The Borgen Project. This template will send an email urging both of your Senators, and your Congressional Representative, to fight for the children separated from their parents at the border. Emailing Congressional leaders is effective because congressional staffers keep a tally of issues raised by constituents. The tallies are added to a weekly report viewed by the Congressional leader; one email could make a difference.
- Support The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) The Facebook fundraising campaign called “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” began on Saturday, June 16 with the initial goal to raise $1,500. As of June 20, the campaign raised an estimated $12 million. A portion of the proceeds from this fundraiser will go toward RAICES, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that aids immigrant children, families and refugees. Under the RAICES Family Reunification Bond Fund, contributions are directed toward funding bonds for the release of detained parents separated from their children.
These steps show how to help children separated from parents at the border and do our part in advocating for those without a voice. The executive order signed on June 20 fails to provide the vital solutions of reuniting children with their parents and outlawing family separation. It is critical to continue to mobilize Congressional leaders until family reunification is realized.
– Christine Leung