On Wednesday, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) denounced the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in immigration enforcement as child abuse. DeLauro stood alongside nearly a dozen members of Congress on the front lawn of the Capitol for a press conference. The zero tolerance policy is an interpretation of an existing court agreement and settlement from 1997 (Flores agreement) that requires certain protections including a child’s immediate release to parents, other adult relatives or licensed programs willing to accept custody. If an immediate suitable placement is not available then the government is obligated to place children in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate to age and any special needs of the child. According to the many stories and accounts that is not happening and the Associated Press is reporting that 2000 children have been separated from their parents in a six week period that spanned from mid-April to the end of May.
Congresswoman DeLauro, who co-chairs the Congressional Baby Caucus, went on to describe a scene that had been reported whereby a child 18 months old was separated from her mother and placed in an enforcement vehicle while the mother watched her crying child being taken away in the vehicle. DeLauro asked people to think about how they would feel if that were your child.
Delauro was joined by Representatives, Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL.), Susan Davis (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WS), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Norma Torres (D-CA) and Nanette Barragan (D-CA), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) and several other members.
In her comments, Congresswoman DeLauro went on to quote the President from a recent statement issued in April recognizing that month as National Child Abuse Prevention Month:
“We must always remember that all children are blessings from our Creator. They are endowed from conception with value, purpose, and human dignity. They are a source of unmatched joy, and they represent our Nation’s future. It is thus our civic and moral responsibility to help every child experience a childhood free from abuse and mistreatment, guiding them toward a future full of hope and promise. I encourage all Americans to nurture the children in their lives and to extend a hand to those in need of love, protection, or even just attention.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS) indicated that next week’s potentials votes on two House immigration bills (see below) will fix the problem by addressing the Flores settlement. Many immigrant advocate groups are saying the draft solutions being considered will not solve the problem and may instead lock children and families together. Critics of the Ryan approach argue that this is not a problem of a past court agreement but the result of Attorney General Session’s new zero tolerance policy. On Thursday, perhaps reacting to recent criticism by many religious groups and leaders including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and last week’s criticism by some Southern Baptists and a joint letter by eight evangelical organizations, Mr. Sessions gave his own Bible quote in favor of his policy. The Washington Post has also reported that the President sees the separation of children as a negotiating tool.
In addition to the press event, DeLauro has introduced a House Res. 927 which has more than 50 cosponsors and denounces the Administration’s policy. At the same time Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced the Keep Families Together Act, which is mirrored by a House version sponsored by Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-NY). The bills prohibit U.S. agents from removing a child from a parent or legal guardian, within a100 miles of the boarder unless:
• a state court, under state law terminates the rights of a parent or legal guardian, by determining it is in the best interests of the child to be removed from the parent or legal guardian, according to provisions enacted through federal child welfare law (ASFA) or any similar determination that is legally authorized under state law; or
• an official from the state or county child welfare agency with expertise in child trauma and development makes a determination that it is in the best interests of the child to be removed from the parent or legal guardian because the child is in danger of abuse or neglect; or
• An agent determines that the child is a victim of trafficking or is at significant risk of becoming a victim of trafficking; there is a strong likelihood that the adult is not the parent or legal guardian or the child is in danger of abuse or neglect at the hands of the parent or legal guardian.
CWLA has not taken a position on the legislation as we are considering the potential legal and other ramifications for child welfare and the welfare of these children being detained.
Recent weeks have seen increasing reports by a range of publications and broadcasts with numerus stories of children being split up. A report by the National Public Radio last month
highlighted an interview with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who defended the strategy saying that immigrants “they are not bad people, “….they are also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States input our modern society…” and went on to defend the separation of children from their parents telling National Public Radio (NPR), “The children will be taken care of—put into foster care or whatever.”