More than 400 religious leaders and faith groups signed an Aug. 1 letter urging Congress to provide funding for social and legal services for immigrants victimized by the Trump administration’s infamous family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Organizations including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Fellowship Southwest, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the American Baptist Churches in the USA pressed leaders in the U.S. House and Senate to address the injustices the policy imposed on thousands of parents and children.
“We urge Congress to authorize and fund the support and stability these families need to heal. In its Fiscal Year 2023 funding bill, congressional appropriators should ensure that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has the statutory authority to use funds at its disposal and additional funds to provide basic services — including behavioral health, legal counsel, family case management, and mental health care services — to families who were separated, particularly those here under parole.”
At least 5,500 children were taken by the U.S. government from their parents, older siblings and other guardians at the southern border in 2017 and 2018 during Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” campaign against immigrants.
At least 5,500 children were taken by the U.S. government from their parents, older siblings and other guardians at the southern border in 2017 and 2018 during Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” campaign against immigrants. Under the practice designed to scare off asylum seekers and other migrants, children were incarcerated as their parents were deported, and U.S. officials failed to keep adequate records of the separations and often purposely prevented reunifications.
The Biden administration’s Family Reunification Task Force has helped reconnect more than 260 children with their parents or other guardians since 2021, but in most of those cases families have been provided with little or no support needed to recover from the trauma of their experiences, according to the letter also signed by the National Association of Evangelicals, the Episcopal Church, Catholic Charities USA and the Latino Christian National Network.
“Some of the families were reunited after months, but for others it has taken years. Thousands more families remain separated today,” the religious leaders and organizations said in the letter.
Since last year, parents in some cases were allowed to enter the U.S. under humanitarian parole. But the status does not include access to case management, mental health care or family support services administered by the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services. Nor does the task force guarantee access to safe environments for reunited families in the U.S.
“Child-parent separation has profound and devastating consequences for children of all ages. Ripping a vulnerable child from their parent takes a significant mental, physical and emotional toll and creates a wound that cannot be easily healed, even upon reunification. In a leading academic study on family separation, 100% of children forcibly separated from their parents at the border showed symptoms of PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder.”
“In a leading academic study on family separation, 100% of children forcibly separated from their parents at the border showed symptoms of PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder.”
The faith leaders and organizations also pressed the White House to use its authority and funds to assist these families: “The family separation policy violated the sanctity of family and failed to live up to our nation’s values. Many of us raised grave concerns at the time about the cruelty of the policy and the impact on so many children’s well-being. No matter where someone came from or how they arrived in the United States, their lives are of value, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. Now, we urge Congress and the administration to do more to heal those harmed by family separation. Without additional services, many families cannot and will not be successfully reunited.”
The Biden administration has been the recipient of letters, as well. In late July, more than 110 faith and other organizations appealed to the president to end the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The Trump-era rule allows the federal government to return asylum seekers to Mexico to await their judicial proceedings in the U.S.
The groups pointed out that a June 30 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for the White House to terminate the program, but it has yet to do so.
“The government must begin the critical work necessary to end MPP once and for all — and to redress the harm it has caused,” Melissa Crow, director of litigation at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, said in a news release from Welcome with Dignity.
“The realities of the Remain in Mexico Program are those of violence and preying upon the most vulnerable among us,” said Marisa Limón Garza, senior director for advocacy and programming at Hope Border Institute. “What I see now by accompanying, by serving, by walking with people impacted by this program — this is a program of family separation, this is a program that impacts vulnerable people directly and it’s a collateral damage that the United States is willing to incur. … What I can firmly attest to is that this administration needs to recognize the humanitarian reality that is at stake, and we cannot wait until after the midterms for action.”
Esther Sung, legal director for Justice Action Center, agreed that now is the time for the administration to act.
“We will continue to advocate for an asylum system that upholds the inherent dignity of each person who comes to our country in search of safety,” according to Sung. “While we celebrate a Supreme Court order that allows the Biden administration to remove the moral and legal stain of Remain in Mexico, the next few weeks will be critical in determining whether we can create a system in which all who come here are truly safe.”