Proposed Changes in Federal Policy that Will Harm Children

There are many reasons to be concerned about what has been proposed by the administration in its Executive Orders, directives issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as well as Secretary Kelly’s public statements. Despite the sweeping nature and deeply troubling tone of these proposals, it is still unclear whether or how they will be implemented.

The proposals we’re most concerned about include plans to strip children of the few protections that exist for them under existing law and the unconscionable and unlawful threat to forcibly separate children from their parents in order to deter other families from seeking protection in the United States. Learn more about each of these issues by clicking on the links below.

We also encourage you to join us for a webinar next Friday, March 31st at 2pm CST (3pm EST) where we’ll update you on the impact of the proposed changes in federal policy, the Young Center’s next steps and what you can do. Sign up for our webinar here. 

Forcibly Separating Children from Parents

The most significant risk for child migrants is separation from their parents.  We are very concerned about this threat, which Secretary Kelly reiterated as recently as last week. He has been clear that this policy is intended to send a message to other families trying to flee harm—to deter their migration to the U.S. It is simply wrong to forcibly separate children from their parents, you don’t use children to send a message.

Threatening Parents with Deportation or Criminal Charges Because of their Child’s Migration 

One of the Administration’s Executive Orders and the corresponding DHS directive explicitly contemplates enforcement actions against parents and family members who “directly or indirectly—facilitate the smuggling or trafficking” of children into the United States. Enforcement actions include removal (deportation) proceedings and even criminal prosecution. Children would be questioned about how they arranged to come to the U.S., and this information could be used to apprehend and/or criminally prosecute parents or family members. If this happens, families will be afraid to step forward to take custody of their children, leaving children to languish in federal custody for far longer periods of time, and at much greater expense to the government. And it would greatly increase the number of families facing long-term or permanent separation.

Closing the Door to Protections for Thousands of Children

Children who are not with a parent or legal guardian when they come to the U.S. are designated as “unaccompanied.” These children receive a few, but important, protections. One is that they are placed in protective custody where they have time to decompress from the journey before telling their stories to authorities. They receive a Know Your Rights presentation and get to meet with a lawyer or paralegal to be screened for potential legal relief. They have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge before a decision is made about whether they will be deported. The administration’s proposals would dramatically limit the number of children designated as unaccompanied—denying these protections to children who have parents in the U.S. Instead, those children could be held in DHS custody and then quickly deported to their countries. No chance to meet with lawyers. No chance to have a Child Advocate appointed to advocate for their best interests. And no time to recover before having to make their case to an immigration official. Advocates in the state child welfare system will tell you—particularly for children who’ve suffered a traumatic event, whether its physical or sexual abuse, the death of a family member, separation from a parent, witnessing violence—that these children need time to tell their stories. There’s now a very real risk these children will face deportation to potentially dangerous, life threatening situations and the possibility of long-term if not permanent separation from parents, siblings and family members.