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Families Shouldn’t Spend Another Mother’s Day Separated and Caged

One year after “zero tolerance,” the nightmare of family separation and detention continues - and we are still fighting back.

By on May 10, 2019

Roughly one year ago, the Trump administration announced its new policy of forcibly separating children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border—a practice then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions labeled “zero tolerance.” With brutal irony, this announcement fell on the same week as Mother’s Day.

In the months that followed, thousands of kids were taken from their parents and warehoused in tent cities and other government facilities. Many of these places were never licensed and had no business caring for children. Meanwhile, their parents were prosecuted as criminals, often simply for crossing the border and presenting themselves to seek asylum, as they have a right to do under U.S. and international law.

These policies constitute some of the worst crimes of our nation’s recent history. Family separation defies common humanity. Child detention is against the law. Prosecuting asylum-seekers for unauthorized border crossings is forbidden under an international refugee agreement the United States has signed.

Due to the public and global outcry against these practices, the administration officially walked back the family separation policy in an executive order issued in June 2018. Shortly thereafter, U.S. courts ordered the government to halt the practice and begin reuniting separated families.

Despite these changes, though, family separation and child detention continue—a full year after “zero tolerance” was officially declared.

UUSC has heard direct testimony from our partners and allies that families are still routinely separated when children are traveling with extended family members or other relatives. Earlier this year, the Texas Civil Rights Project documented nearly 40 cases of parents and legal guardians who had been separated from their children during a six month period—all of them after the executive order came down supposedly ending the practice.

Meanwhile, the administration has still failed to reunite all 3,000 families in the original court order barring family separation. As of May 1, as many as 55 kids in this group were still held in Health and Human Services (HHS) custody, away from their parents. This class does not include the potentially thousands of other children who were separated from their parents before the government began keeping track.

The ongoing trauma of family separation is perhaps especially visible at the Homestead HHS child detention facility in Florida. The number of children held in places like Homestead has continued to swell in parallel with the administration’s practice of taking kids away from their families and handing them over to HHS custody.

Because Homestead, like the Tornillo tent city that preceded it is a so-called “emergency influx” facility, it can evade many of the licensing requirements that are needed to make a facility safe for children. Further, administration policies of targeting relatives and sponsors have made it all the more difficult for detained kids to ever leave.

As another Mother’s Day approaches, no family should have to spend the holiday separated and caged. UUSC is working in coalition to shut down Homestead and end the practices that are keeping kids locked away from their parents and relatives – just as we worked to close the Tornillo tent city before it. Please stay tuned for more details on an upcoming week of action in June to shut down Homestead.

A powerful piece of art created by Paola Mendoza inspires us to respond to this call to action. Unveiled on May 7, the piece shows a mother draped in a mylar blanket, reaching toward her children behind a wire mesh. Positioned on the Capitol lawn, it confronts our elected officials with the reality that the trauma the government enacted in 2018 has still not ended. We must act to ensure that no family is ever separated again, and that all families are able to live together in dignity and freedom.

Photo Credit: iStock – Giselleflissak


About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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