A joint briefing by the YWCA and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation: A Report Back from the Border on Friday, June 29, provided a platform for advocates to call for congressional action. The panel discussion and remarks included Abel Nunez, CARECEN—Latino Resource and Justice Center, Maria Cardona, Latinovations, Maria Teresa Kumar, Vota Latino, Ranit Mishori, Global Health Initiative-Georgetown, and Sindy Benavides, League of United Latin American Citizens. All took the time to describe what was taking place at the U.S. border including personal and family stories.
The speakers drew attention to a number of recommendations including an end to the “zero tolerance policy,” an end to detention of children and families, trauma-informed care for children impacted by the enforcement actions and safety assurance for families subjected to the policies. On more than one occasion the panelists called for an immediate oversight hearing by Congress with the Director of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, Secretary of HHS Alex Azar, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen all called before Congress to account for and explain current policies and practices.
In discussing what was taking place a number of interesting observations were made by panelists. A question was repeated based on recent accounts that there is little information about the number of girls held in detention. Several panelists suggested that was due to political considerations. The President has been attempting to project his enforcement policy as an enforcement against the entry of gang members (MS-13) and it was suggested that the federal release of information limited to boys feeds a political narrative about the potential danger of border entrants. Most of the public information including videos has been controlled by federal officials.
Another critical point raised during the discussion was the role of state and local child welfare. Abel Nunez from CARECEN Latino Resource and Justice Center, suggested that in separating children from their parent we had to be careful not to lose these separated children to local child welfare systems. An important point since some of these separations can last for months and children may still be in child welfare foster care even when a parent has been returned to a country of origin. There are no special requirements or protections of parental rights within federal child welfare law regarding these immigrant children and parents. There are the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) provisions which require termination of parental rights within a general timeline of 15 months. If a child gets left behind, a parent in another country faces geographic, language, legal, resource and other barriers in fulfilling any local court and child welfare agency demands around child-parent reunification plans. There have been instances whereby a child has had parental rights terminated despite a parent wanting them returned to their custody another country.