The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Letter to The Editor (LTE) Campaign on Family Separation: Submission Guidelines and Tips
This administration’s anti-immigrant agenda continues to fail migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy announced in May 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separated families at the U.S.-Mexico border—removing over 2,300 children from their parents in mere weeks. Outrage in response to this policy was immediate and came from all levels. The President responded with an Executive Order that did little to provide any remedy. We demand better.
You can play an important role in a critical campaign to protect our immigrant community members, end family separation, and stop human rights abuses in the name of immigration enforcement—with only a few hundred words.
The news goes with morning coffee on Capitol Hill. We hope to capture the attention of Members of Congress and people of faith and conscience across the country with letters to the editor (LTEs) that will urge them to realize they must take action to stop this egregious policy and support immigrant rights.
To get you started, we have supplied several versions of draft LTEs across four themes that can be personalized and edited further for you to submit to your local newspaper or favorite outlet. It is important that the letter ultimately reflect your authentic voice and stance, and respond to a recent article or op-ed.
See below for additional instructions, tips, and guidelines on how to join this effort, and let us know how we can support you to join us in this action!
Please contact UUSC staff (Mike Givens, Associate Director of Strategic Communications) with any questions you have, and thank you for your participation.
Note that the copy below will need to be tweaked and personalized with your own voice and thoughts in order to best respond to particular articles or editorials as you identify them. These versions should be used as placeholder content for ideas rather than final drafts to be submitted.
Theme 1: We need concrete policies to address criminalization and separation
The government again misses the beam in its own eye while it persecutes neighbors…
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently told an audience that the Bible commands people to “obey the laws of the government.” In truth, this administration’s “zero tolerance” policy doesn’t uphold the law, it violates it. Article 31 of the United Nations Refugee Convention, which the United States has signed, says that governments can’t impose criminal penalties on refugees just because they cross the border between ports of entry.
This policy is with good reason—when you are running for your life, you don’t get to choose when and how you enter a country. By prosecuting asylum-seeking parents and taking away their children, this administration is violating human rights our country promised to uphold. Perhaps the Attorney General should think twice before casting the first stone.
[Word Count: 124]
Theme 2: The administration needs to stop expanding family incarceration
White House governs by kidnapping…
Once again, this government is trying to say that imprisoning families indefinitely is somehow a solution to their own family separation policy. This is classic extortion: we’ll only drop one threat if you accept something nearly as dreadful. The truth is, it’s a completely false choice.
Legal rulings that protect children from indefinite detention mean that families should be released together, in tried and proven alternatives to detention, not that they should be torn apart. If anyone in this government were remotely serious about keeping families together, they could do so this instant – by dropping their so-called “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting parents and refugees. Instead, they prefer tactics suited to what they have become: a government of kidnappers.
[Word Count: 120]
Theme 3: Family separation vs. family detention
Immigrants face unimaginable choices
The Trump administration’s attempts to mitigate the effects of and deny responsibility for its nationalistic immigration policy do little to ease the unnecessary harm it continues to inflict on immigrant families. Thousands remain separated under the “zero tolerance” policy—as of July 5 no children have been reunited with parents in federal custody. There are concerns some families may never be made whole. Additionally, criminal prosecutions of migrants crossing between designated ports of entry continue and may result in the separation of additional families.
Asylum-seekers now face the distressing choice between voluntary deportation and family reunification under a prolonged detention that is likely to retraumatize their children and violate their rights to seek asylum. These policies do little to make the United States safer and are an egregious violation of U.S. and international law.
Dozens of members of Congress showed up and spoke out at Families Belong Together rallies and protests last month—who among them will take the next step of introducing and working to pass legislation that will stop the White House from harming innocent people?
[Word Count: 178]
Family detention, separation a malicious ploy to undermine U.S. asylum system
The attacks on migrant families fleeing extreme violence continue as the Trump administration forces a false decision between family separation and detention. Extended family detention may be current policy, but it is not law. Further, it is inhumane and has been shown to have lasting negative psychological effects on children. The moral and legal failings of such a policy were evident under President Obama, and they remain in force today.
The President’s intention to dismantle the U.S. asylum system remains clear. Family separation and detention justify the misguided goal of a malicious administration—discouraging asylum in order to deter migration at a time when illegal border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border remain low. Regardless, the government has proposed building temporary facilities on military bases that will house thousands of migrant families.
Voices around the nation, from human rights advocates to faith leaders and lawmakers, unite on these two points: families belong together, and families cannot be detained and re-traumatized. Congress must pass legislation in accordance with these demands.
[Word Count: 168]
Theme 4: Concrete policies, not legal remedies, are needed to fix a broken immigration system
Injunctions, litigation band-aids for problem requiring long-term solutions
The Justice Department recently announced it aims to keep asylum-seeking families in detention “during the pendency of” their immigration cases which. given today’s backlog of 700,000 cases, amounts to an indefinite jail sentence. This announcement came on the heels of a decision barring the Trump administration from separating additional families under its “zero tolerance” policy and ordering the reunification of families already separated.
This is not the first time the White House has pivoted on policy in furtherance of its anti-immigrant agenda and we are likely to see similar action in the face of judicial rulings that protect migrant rights. While litigation and court decisions provide asylum-seekers with a reprieve from immediate harm in the face of Trump’s xenophobic and nationalistic policies, they are insecure remedies at best. At worst, as evidenced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Muslim ban” decision, they secure little protection for communities at risk and actually entitle the administration to inflict further damage.
Congress must take immediate action to advance legislation that ensures immigrant families are treated fairly, with dignity, respect, and in full accordance of the due process protections to which they are entitled.
[Word Count: 189]
Before You Start: Outlet specific rules and guidelines
Focus on the outlets that you read for submission, in particular local and regional newspapers. Editors want to hear from their readers and you’ll have a better chance of success getting published if you’re speaking to members of your local or state community. Some outlets also require authors to be residents of their publication area.
Before you write your letter, check the newspaper you’re targeting and their online guidelines for LTE submissions (word counts, points of contact, etc.). Editors are very exact as to content and guidelines for letters in both their print and online editions.
Note whether or not a newspaper requires authors of letters to be residents of the media’s coverage area. If you’re outside their zone, then do a little homework to find another daily newspaper that matches your location.
Finding submission guidelines
- Google the name of the newspaper or outlet you are interested in writing to and “letter to the editor;” for example: “Tulsa World” “Letter to the Editor”. Note that a straight web search may pull up outdated versions of the newspaper’s editorial and letter submissions guidelines—be sure you’re looking at current instructions.
- Go directly to the newspaper’s website and look for the opinion section of the paper and start searching from there.
Drafting Your LTE
Prospecting for the news hook
LTEs typically respond to a story, editorial, column, or comment quoted in a news report that the newspaper has recently run. You can respond to that content to refute a point or endorse a position. If you don’t have a story you read in mind, you can search the paper for a recent piece on story, op-ed, quote or commentary on the issue you’re concerned about—and don’t forget, UUSC staff are here to help if you come up empty handed!
Most editors want letters that respond to an article or commentary they’ve recently published. And by “recently,” some specify just a few days, preferably no longer than a week. If you don’t have a story you read in mind, you can search the paper for a recent piece on family separation and the related issues—and we’re here to help if you come up empty handed!
Make sure to include a link to the original newspaper piece within your letter.
LTE limits are typically between 150 – 250 words. Some newspapers are more flexible. Major outlets are not. Note the word count limit and “write to fit,” cutting and reshaping as needed to fit within their guidelines.
- Keep it short: Newspapers are most likely to publish letters to the editor that are short and make one succinct point (that is supported with facts or quotes from validators!). Check the newspaper you’re submitting to for a word limit. If you can’t find a limit, keep it to 150 words or fewer for LTEs or 750 words or fewer for op-eds.
- Write from your own voice: Your piece is more likely to be published if it comes from you. Don’t be afraid to tell your story or share your stance and to appeal to your community from the heart as well as the head.
Online forms or email addresses
Some LTE submissions are done only through a newspaper’s online form, and others list an email address for you to send the letter text and your complete contact information, including home address (to determine that you are local and a legitimate contributor) and phone number. While they may require it for the form, your address and phone number will not be printed.
If you are sending your letter via email, do not send material as an attachment. Include the text within the body of your email to the editors.
Editors may follow up with a phone call to confirm you’re who you say are and review any suggested edits to your submission, if they wish to carry it. Otherwise, they may email you with a “thank you, but no thank you.” It is also possible that you will not hear back at all or receive a form letter confirming receipt – don’t lose heart if you do not hear a positive response. We encourage you to keep trying and reach out to UUSC staff directly for support if you aren’t making inroads.
We’re excited that you’re interested in adding your voice to this effort. Don’t forget that UUSC staff are available to help with any questions that you have, from how to get started to a quick proofread of any drafts before you’re set to submit. If you have questions or would like an extra hand, please email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.