immigration resources

Children and Families at the Border: What You Can Do

July 23, 2018

The alternative to family separation must not be indefinite family incarceration. This is a false choice and a "fake fix." #FamiliesBelongTogether.

Update September 2018:  The Washington Post is tracking information about children who are still separated from their parents, and other developments. There are still nearly 500 children who remain separated from their families.

The Administration has proposed a new regulation that could modify the 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which defines rules for detaining migrant children. (The Flores Settlement essentially limits how long children can be detained, even with parents, given the trauma that stems from detention.) On September 18, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will hold a hearing, "The Implications of the Reinterpretation of the Flores Settlement Agreement for Border Security and Illegal Immigration Incentives." Details here.

Read the ACLU blog, The Tried-And-True Alternatives to Detaining Immigrant Families.


Struggling to understand what's happening and what you can do?  It's hard to stay up to date on this fast-moving issue. Below you'll find information and ideas for action in support of children and families. We will keep this resource updated with news, analyses and way to get involved from across the child and youth and immigration advocacy fields.

Please help us by sharing any reports, information or your calls to action you come across. Email

Quick Links:

What You Can Do: 5 Ways to Take Action

The family separation has stunned and activated people around the country and the world. Child and youth-focused organizations, faith groups, immigration organizations and local communities continue to remind us that this crisis is far from resolved. The Trump administration’s policy of prosecuting and jailing all families seeking to enter the United States persists.

Now is a time to stand up and oppose the inhumane  treatment of migrants and refugees. While the Executive Order might stop the practice of separating children from their parents,  advocates and immigrant rights organizations across the United States caution that the detention of families is not an appropriate response to migration and will expose parents and children to continued trauma.

The main goals and talking points for our collective action are:

  1. We must reunite families now. Stop separating children from their parents.
  2. We must end family detention, which we know is traumatizing and harmful.
  3. We must address the root cause of all of this: the Trump administration's  “zero tolerance” policy, which prosecutes parents for doing what all parents do: protect their children.

Visit and FamiliesBelongTogether for information and events.  

act now1. Take Action.
Use our alert to oppose harmful bills and call on our Members of Congress to put forward a bipartisan immigration bill that protects children and families, doesn’t set up a false choice between safety and family detention or separation, ensures due process and that establishes a meaningful pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. To act, click here or visit our Action Center and use the top activation.

ZERO TO THREE, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health have compiled resources for parents, caregivers and professionals working with very young children who have been impacted by separation and other trauma. Find the Resource Guide here.

2. Attend a Rally or Event.
The Families Belong Together website is a great place to start. It has a list of actions by Zip Code.

Please share yours!  

3. Use social media.
Consider adding a photo frame to your Facebook or Instagram profile. Join social media activations online, and use the hashtag #FamiliesBelongTogether. Tag Members of Congress and the Trump administration. (Our advice: keep it civil and nonpartisan. Incivility is contagious, try not to add to it!)

4. Volunteer.
The Young Center for Children and Immigrant Rights has information about how to serve as a child advocate for unaccompanied migration children in Chicago, Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen, Phoenix, Los Angeles, New York, or Washington, D.C.

5. Donate Time or Money.
Organizations are performing critical roles as watch dogs, advocates and journalists. Many are nonprofits and can accept donations of time and money. Some examples: 

  • The Texas Civil Rights Project, which is documenting conditions, working with families on the ground and also challenging the policy at the international level. If you speak Spanish and/or indigenous languages from Central and South America, they are looking for volunteers.
  • The National Immigration Justice Center is currently working on cases of children who have been separated from their parents.
  • RAICES is helping to pay bonds to allow parents to leave detention, pay for calls to children at other detention centers and tackle other urgent needs.  
  • Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) connects families and unaccompanied minors with legal representation in immigration proceedings, and works to improve our nation's immigration policies and systems. 
  • can give you a list of immigrant-serving organizations in your area that can offer (and often need) support.

The New York Times Editorial Board ran an editorial with more ideas for action: Seizing Children From Parents at the Border Is Immoral. Here’s What We Can Do About It. (New York Times, June 14)


Understanding What’s Happening

On June 20, President Trump signed an Executive Order reversing his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border - but his reversal did little to assuage the concerns of advocates, primarily because it appears to be an attempt to allow for indefinite detention of migrant families, including those seeking asylum. (This would likely face court challenges, as current consent decree forbids detaining minors for more than 20 days.)

An immigration bill being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives would do the same. Among the provisions in the bills that immigration advocates oppose: a $7 billion expansion of incarceration facilities to detain immigrants.

  • On June 20, President Trump issued an Executive Order reversing his administration’s policy of separating children from parents. Advocates say this is far from a solution and could lead to “indefinite detention” of families, which is currently unlawful.
  • On June 21, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) issued a statement saying that whether the Executive Order would effectively end separation is unclear, and expressing concerns that it includes “a dangerous proposal for prolonged detention.” He included data on how detrimental family detention is to children.
  • Since May 2018, more than 2,300 children have been separated from parents at the southern border of the U.S., according to the Associated Press (reporting on Department of Homeland Security data).
  • This is the result of a policy directive from the administration. On April 6, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for immigration prosecution that, for the first time, included prosecuting parents traveling with children and those seeking asylum. “Children whose parents are referred for prosecution will be placed with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR),” according to the statement.
  • The Associated Press reports that there are at least three “tender age” facilities specifically housing babies and toddlers.
  • National Public Radio (NPR) reports that many details about “how children are taken from their parents and by whom — are unclear.” Parents are not always given information about where there children are. The NPR report examines what’s known about what happens to children and families, as well as approaches used in the past.
  • Despite misleading and divisive rhetoric, this is entirely within President Trump’s powers. As The Washington Post reports, “no law or court ruling mandates family separations” and until last month, they have not been used with this regularity and in this way.



The Impact: Trauma

No one, at least not publicly, is arguing that this is not a deeply traumatic experience for children and their parents.

Separating children from parents flies in the face of what we know about trauma and child development, and runs counter to our domestic child welfare approaches, which focus on keeping children parents or relatives where possible and minimizing use of congregate care. The same is true of detaining families: we know that detention, even with parents, is traumatizing for children.

Professional medical associations and leading experts are unequivocal that these approaches are traumatic and harmful, and can lead to lifelong repercussions.

  • In March, before the “zero-tolerance” policy was confirmed, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement opposing the separation of mothers and children at the border:

“Federal authorities must exercise caution to ensure that the emotional and physical stress children experience as they seek refuge in the United States is not exacerbated by the additional trauma of being separated from their siblings, parents or other relatives and caregivers. Proposals to separate children from their families as a tool of law enforcement to deter immigration are harsh and counterproductive.  We urge policymakers to always be mindful that these are vulnerable, scared children.”

  • In June 2017, the American Medical Association adopted new policies to better address the health needs of refugees and migrants:

“The separation of children from their parents who are detained while seeking safe haven causes unnecessary distress, depression and anxiety,” said AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D. “The vast majority of detained families are ultimately released, but the physical and psychological distress of detention can continue, particularly for children.”

“First, the early years lay the foundation for children’s long-term health and wellbeing. For children to learn and grow and ultimately succeed in school and in life, they need good nutrition, regular health care, a stable and healthy living environment, and nurturing and loving care. … Second, immigrants are central to our nation’s past and future. Children of immigrants—those with at least one foreign-born parent—comprise a quarter of all young children, and the overwhelming majority of them are U.S. citizens.”

“The effect is catastrophic,” said Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School. “There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this.”

  • The American Psychological Association has a 2016 report on the impact of detention and deportation of parents on their children (which doesn’t look at children themselves being detained).

Round-Up of Resources & Statements from Organizations

Please share resources you have or have found useful with Thank you!



This article was originally published on June 18, 2018 and is being reviewed and updated by SparkAction staff.