Members of Congress Pledge HELP for Separated Children

Today, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and colleagues in the Senate, along with Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA 40) and colleagues in the House, introduced the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act to protect children separated from their parents by immigration enforcement actions.

Children are increasingly feeling the effects of the Trump Administration’s harsh enforcement-driven immigration policy agenda, which has scaled back the ability of immigration officials to exercise discretion during enforcement activities against parents of U.S. citizen children. Millions of children—most of whom are U.S. citizens—are increasingly vulnerable to losing a parent to deportation. Living with the fear of family separation has harmful effects on children’s psychological and physical well-being. Children whose parents are detained or deported often suffer from physical and mental health difficulties, including irregular sleeping or eating habits, developmental regressions, and increased anger and withdrawal. These outcomes are most pronounced when children experience long periods of separation from their parent.

Provisions in the HELP Separated Children Act would help mitigate some of the stress and instability of immigration enforcement on children. Among other provisions, the Act:

  • Allows parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children prior to being taken into custody.
  • Allows parents a meaningful opportunity to communicate with children by saying goodbye, reassuring them, and sharing information about their care arrangements before they are separated.
  • Protects children from having to translate ICE interrogations for their parents.
  • Requires ICE to consider children’s best interests in decisions about parents’ detention, transfer between detention facilities, and release from detention.
  • Allows detained parents to have regular phone calls and contact visits with children.
  • Allows parents to fully participate in child welfare proceedings during their detention.

CLASP learned first hand in a national research study that children are living in fear of being separated from their parents—and we heard concerning stories of children witnessing their worst nightmare coming true. We heard story after story of children watching their parents being taken away without an opportunity to say goodbye—and then wondering if and when they’ll ever see their parents again.

Legislation that offers a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizens, is ultimately needed to prevent families from being separated in the first place and to remove the instability caused by fear of deportation. In the meantime, Congress can take action now to promote continuity in parent-child relationships in the aftermath of immigration enforcement actions and lessen the harm to children.