Every Mother’s Day we honor the mothers in our lives and celebrate the vital role they play in our families. It is an opportunity to come together and remember the blessings of family and to reflect on how important it is, not only to ourselves but to the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, we know many children have been unnecessarily separated from their mothers – and fathers – while trying to seek protection at our southern border; these children will be spending this holiday alone.
Over the past year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has increasingly chosen to separate children from their parents and legal guardians at the U.S./Mexico border. Since October 2017, over 700 children have been separated from their parents and rendered “unaccompanied,” including over 100 children under the age of four. We expect this number to drastically increase with the recent “zero-tolerance” policy.
Many of these immigrant families are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries, and seeking safety and protection for their children here in the U.S. While separation can be appropriate when there are trafficking or abuse concerns, more often such separation is occurring in the absence of such justifications. For example, a mother and her 3-year-old son Daniel* fled from Guatemala to the U.S. to escape persecution by the local gangs. Upon their arrival at the U.S./Mexico border Daniel was separated from his mother by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, deemed “unaccompanied,” and placed in a separate ORR facility from her. It seems that CBP agents were confused as to the nature of their relationship and believed Daniel to be traveling with his aunt. While their parent/child relationship has since been confirmed, Daniel’s mother continues to be held in an immigrant detention facility. As of today, both mother and toddler have still not been reunited with each other.
Separation from a parent or legal guardian can have extremely adverse effects on children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, separating families is extremely frightening and stressful to children, and their research has shown that even short periods of separation can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health problems.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is very concerned about the increasing number of cases of family separation. Catholic Social Teaching underscores the importance of the family and its essential role to the individual and society. When families are ripped apart and children separated from their parents for no reason, something must be done to right this wrong. We must work to ensure that all immigrant families and children who are detained are not needlessly separated from one another and that they are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. So, this Mother’s Day while many of us are celebrating with our families, we encourage you to remember children like Daniel who are unable to do the same with their parents.
*Client name changed to protect confidentiality.