How To Help Families Who Were Forcibly Separated At The Border

Because doing nothing isn't an option anymore.

UPDATE:  President Trump has signed an executive order aimed at keeping immigrant families together while they are in detention. "So we're keeping families together and this will solve that problem, at the same we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be zero tolerance," the president said at the order signing, per CNN.

It is not immediately clear if there is a plan to reunite already-separated families.

For many of the families who were separated, or who will in the future be affected by the president's zero-tolerance policy, the struggle is far from over. The organizations listed below will continue to support these families as they move on to the next hurdle.

At this moment, the United States government is forcibly separating immigrant children from their families at our southern border. As reported by Vox, since the zero-tolerance policy was implemented, 65 children a day have been torn from their parents' arms. These children are then brought to detention centers where they are staying indefinitely. Some parents have even been deported, without their children, and with no clear way of getting them back. Agents have gone so far as to rip a child away from a mother who was breastfeeding. The emotional and physical trauma these families are experiencing is so severe that one father died by suicide after being separated from his wife and child. 

Many Americans have spent the last week or so wondering how this happened and how in the world can they help make it stop. Here's a breakdown of what happened and how to help.


What is going on?

The Trump administration has elected to start prosecuting all illegal border crossings as misdemeanors in criminal court. Prior to this decision, these matters were addressed in civil court where families were detained together, then either sent back immediately (together) or given parole to remain within the country (together).

Almost 2,000 children were separated from their parents within a 6-week period. The "detention centers" they are being held in more closely resemble prisons. There is now even a plan to build temporary "tent city" to house another 450 migrant children.

These prison-like centers are no place for a child to go. And, to make matters worse, employees charged with the care of these children are not allowed to touch or physically comfort them. Instead, toddlers are left inconsolable, unable to understand why they are unable to see their parents. The situation has gotten so bad, that the Los Angeles Times reports that these understaffed facilities are now dealing with children who are running away, screaming, throwing furniture, and even attempting suicide.

How did this happen?

According to the New York Times, under the current law the government has the option to prosecute anyone coming into the country illegally. But, until now, this rarely happened. Family separation has increased as a result of increased referrals for criminal prosecution, as adults and children are held at different locations.

How bad is it?

The United Nations has called the forcible separation of children from their families a human rights violation, and it's hard to argue with its assessment. On June 5, the international body demanded that the U.S. stop separating families at the border, stating that the practice was a "serious violation" of the rights of children. The Physicians for Human Rights has come out with a statement saying that "such a practice is profoundly harmful to children and to families, in addition to violating fundamental human rights..." The statement goes onto say that the forceful separation of families will lead to PTSD and delayed neurodevelopment which can severely affect cognitive and emotional functions. More recently, the Republican Governor Charlie Baker has declared that he will no longer be sending the Massachusetts National Guard to the border, citing the "cruel and inhumane" policies.

How do I help?

The first thing you can do is call your elected officials.

Does that really work? Yes. It does. 

Right now there are a handful of bills and resolutions that, if passed, would prohibit family separations at the border. These bills include the Keep Families Together Act and the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act. And if you don't know who to call, or what to say, the ACLU has created a webpage that will find the correct representative for you to contact as well as provide a script that you can use to guide your conversation.

The next thing you can do is to support advocacy groups who are helping, either by donating money, time or both. Here is a list:

Border Angels is an organization based in California that supports the San Diego County's immigrant population, focusing on border-related issues. Learn more here.

NETA is an organization based in Texas that helps asylum seekers in the U.S. and Mexico. Learn more here.

The ProBAR Project: Part of the American Bar Association, this organization currently supports over 1,000 unaccompanied children in detention centers across South Texas. Learn more here.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras offers humanitarian aid and shelter to migrants in the U.S. Learn more here.

RAICES offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and their families. Learn more here.

The Texas Civil Rights Project is currently using legal advocacy to help separated families. Learn more here

Together Rising provides legal assistance to 60 migrant children who have been separated from their parents and are currently being held in Arizona. Learn more here.

You can also protest.

The Families Belong Together nationwide protest has been scheduled for June 30. It has been organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the ACLU, the Women's March, and MoveOn, among others. 

If waiting two weeks feels too long for you, there are protests scheduled around the country, for the coming weeks. To find one near you, try an event search on Facebook.

Cover image via Rena Schild /


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