Seven Days Left to Defend Vulnerable Immigrant Children's Safety, Wellbeing

The past year and a half have been filled with shocking immigration news. Babies ripped from their parents’ arms at the border, children locked away in makeshift “tent cities,” preschoolers afraid to go to school for fear their parents won’t pick them up at the end of the day. It’s too much to digest. As a daughter of immigrants, first-time mother, and advocate for immigrant children and families, it’s been heartbreaking and exhausting.

However, it’s critical to continue rejecting policies that undermine our nation’s values and threaten the safety and wellbeing of children. The public has just one more week to speak out against a regulatory change that would allow the Trump Administration to detain children indefinitely and expand the harmful practice of jailing families. The proposed rule would alter what is known as the Flores Settlement Agreement, which limits the length of time and conditions under which children can be held in detention.

It’s important to remember who this rule change would impact: the very children and families who were separated earlier this year through the appalling “zero tolerance” policy, including children entering the U.S. alone, known as unaccompanied children. The majority of these children and families are seeking refuge from the increasingly high rates of murder and gender-based violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Rather than treat the situation like the humanitarian crisis it is, the Trump Administration wants to criminalize asylum seekers—throwing them into jail, separating families upon arrival, and militarizing our border. To justify these horrific actions, the administration continues to claim these actions are necessary for deterring future migration. However, both Department of Homeland Security and external researchers have found that such policies consistently failed to stop people from crossing the border—primarily because the murder and violence in their countries remains. In other words, a mother seeking to save her child from a burning house will never stop looking for a way out.

The proposed rule changes would strip basic protections—like food and water—in certain instances from children who enter the U.S alone, also known as unaccompanied children. These children are already incredibly vulnerable and lack guaranteed access to legal representation. Under the rule, children also would also be denied the ability to reunify with certain family members, including their grandparents. As a result, the number of children already in immigration detention would significantly increase, and the government would be allowed to hold them beyond the current 20-day limit. The proposal would also expand the practice of jailing children with their parents by creating a new licensing scheme overseen by an enforcement agency rather than a child welfare agency—a seriously flawed proposal that would weaken standards of care for children, causing great risk to their health and safety.

The harmful impact of detention on children has been well documented, with young children facing particularly dire consequences, including developmental delays, regressions due to toxic stress, and inadequate medical attention. Mariee Jaurez, a toddler who died from poor medical care at the Dilley detention center, is one of the most tragic examples of why family detention is ineffective, dangerous, and immoral. When I think of Mariee—a beautiful baby with almond-shaped eyes like my daughter—I can only think of how grossly unfair it is that her life was cut short after her mother made the enormous sacrifice to migrate thousands of miles to protect her. No parent should ever have to endure the pain of losing a child, especially to a respiratory infection that could’ve been treated in this country with the best medical resources in the world. What happened to Mariee isn’t just wrong, it’s downright shameful.

We must unite again—as mothers, fathers, community leaders, neighbors—to protect and respect every child and ensure none ever suffers like Mariee. In the same way that we protested in the streets over the summer against the separation of families, we can take action as individuals and organizations by submitting a comment opposing the proposed Flores rule. By law, the federal government must review every single comment submitted by 11:59pm on November 6, 2018.

CLASP is proud to be partnering with Families Belong Together and many others through the Stop Family Detention comment campaign. Please visit StopFamilyDetention.Org to post your comment. To help develop your comments from a child development perspective, please see CLASP’s comments on the rule, available here.