The U.S. government should stop separating children from their parents and formally rescind its “zero tolerance” immigration enforcement policy, according to a new report from Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services.
Immigration officials separated more than 2,500 children from their parents since the Trump administration announced a zero-tolerance enforcement policy in May. While most have been reunited, more than 200 children remain separated. After public outcry, President Trump signed an executive order halting the policy of separating children.
“As we have been for decades, communities of faith were there, poised and ready, to love and serve our neighbors in need,” Kay Bellor, vice president of programs for L.I.R.S., said in a statement. “It is our deep hope that the lessons learned from this time in our history will prevent the cruel separation of children from their parents from happening again.”
The joint report details how Lutheran and Catholic agencies this summer helped the Trump administration reunite more than 1,200 families that had been separated. The experience informed the joint recommendations, which center on family unity.
Rescinding the zero-tolerance policy “would restore federal prosecutors’ ability to utilize their discretion and balance various factors,” according to the report.
Some of the recommendations from the nation’s Lutheran and Catholic communities include the creation of an official “family unity” ombudsman to lead coordination of the remaining family reunifications and monitor future incidences of family separation. The report recommends that families should not be delivered to service providers or reception centers outside of agreed-upon business hours since “reuniting families during the night can increase their stress and add to children’s confusion.”
Rescinding the zero-tolerance policy “would restore federal prosecutors’ ability to utilize their discretion and balance various factors,” according to the report. It calls on Congress to invest in alternatives to detention, expand programs that address the root causes of migration, and oversee detention and ongoing reunification efforts.
Other recommendations include better documentation of family relationships and improving training for care providers. The agencies urged government support for the separated families even after reunification.
“Little is yet known about the extent of the traumatic impact of the recent forcible separation of children from their parents at the border,” according to the report, which noted that local service providers had recorded symptoms of trauma, including anxiety. Unlike unaccompanied minors, it said, “These children arrived in the U.S. believing they would continue to remain under their parents’ care, which made their forced separation even more jarring.”
While recommitting to help, L.I.R.S. and the U.S. bishops called on the Trump administration to “commit to immigration policies that are humane and uphold each individual’s human dignity.”