#WhereAreTheChildren and Family Separation at the U.S. – Mexico Border
June 1, 2018
This past weekend, the internet became flooded with tweets asking #WherearetheChildren after a New York Times article reported that the Trump Administration had lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied migrant children.
Let’s be clear: this is a very real question. As people of faith, the well-being of children, particularly of migrant children fleeing danger in their home countries to seek refuge in the United States, is paramount.
But — it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Immigration advocates are asking people to look beyond #WherearetheChildren. As Vox reporter Sarah Kliff explains:
“Immigration advocates… aren’t spending a lot of time worried about #WhereAreTheChildren. Instead, they say the real crisis is the Trump administration’s new policy of separating undocumented families apprehended at the US border — a policy that may have gotten conflated with the “missing” children story that went viral this weekend.”
What’s the difference? The “1,500 missing children” refers to unaccompanied minors, who arrived in the United States mostly during the Obama Administration, and through the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Health and Human Services, were placed in the care of family and foster care agencies.
#WherearetheChildren is a movement to find the 1,500 minors who mostly came across the border alone and were placed into the guardianship of foster homes or their own families (even if the family members are undocumented). HHS keeps track of these minors by calling the homes they were placed in and following up with them for their deportation court hearings. Immigration advocates are not asking #Wherearethechildren because these are not 1,500 minors who have been separated from their families. These are 1,500 families that did not pick up the phone when the government called asking for the whereabouts of undocumented children.
Now, the Trump Administration, has a new policy that an administration official referred to as a “zero tolerance policy,” which separates families seeking asylum when they reach the U.S. border.
“The Trump administration’s solution [to logistical challenges related to detaining families as unit], now codified in policy, is to stop treating them as families: to detain the parents as adults and place the children in the custody of Health and Human Services as ‘unaccompanied minors.’”
This insidious policy separates families coming across the border together to seek asylum. Parents are turned over to ICE for criminal prosecution and their children are re-designated as “unaccompanied minors,” even though they were forcibly separated from their parent/guardian.
As a result, the separated children can be sent anywhere in the U.S. regardless of the status or location of their parents, even if the parent or parents have been deported. In some cases, this makes family reunification nearly impossible. We must also ask #WhereAreTheChildren, for these young people being forcibly separated from their parents by U.S. agents.
There is no doubt that there are threats to unaccompanied minors, and the Department of Health and Human Services must be very careful about where it is placing minors. #WherearetheChildren needs to be about the 1,500 children, and it must be a call to action to stop separating children from their parents . We need to fight against policies created to separate children from their families and recognize that the safest place for immigrant children is with their families and their communities.
Below are some resources on separated families:
“This is what’s really happening to kids at the border” (The Washington Post)
“Family Separation at the Border” (KIND and Women’s Refugee Commission’s two page backgrounder on what happens to separated children.)