So much has happened this summer with the president’s Zero Tolerance immigration policy of separating children from their families at the border that it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a refresher of what’s happened and what’s currently happening under this policy, and what Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota, the ELCA and advocacy partners are doing in response.
The policy: The Department of Justice announced in April that every adult who enters the country without immigration authorization would be criminally prosecuted, regardless of the circumstances. This includes refugees fleeing their home countries due to violence or other reasons, even though refugees are required under US law to present themselves at a point of entry—in other words, people entering the United States to claim asylum are not breaking the law. Under the previous policy, people caught crossing the border or those claiming asylum would be held in immigrant detention pending the outcome of their immigration proceeding. Under the new policy, they are instead referred to criminal prosecution to determine whether they will serve prison time for crossing the border. Federal law classifies crossing the border without approval by an immigration official as a misdemeanor, not a felony; it is the criminal equivalent to trespassing on national forest land.
Family separation: United States law does not allow children to be jailed, so the policy of automatically prosecuting parents crossing the border has resulted in children being taken from their parents and held in separate detention facilities while their parents are sent to federal prison. Children who are separated from their parents are deemed “unaccompanied minors” and referred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for locating any family members or friends in the US who can take custody of the child. As a result of the change in policy, at least 2,700 children were separated from their families between May and June and held in detention centers. They range in ages from less than a year old to 17 years old.
Family reunification: in late June a federal judge ordered the administration to reunify all children who were taken from their families by July 26th. As of August 16, 2018, there are still over 500 children who have not been reunited with their families–most of whom have already been deported.
Lutheran advocacy and action: The ELCA’s AMMPARO program is a holistic strategy focused on using the church’s connections within Central America, Mexico and the U.S. to uphold and guarantee the protection and safety of children in the region. AMMPARO stands for “Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities.” In Spanish, the word “amparo” with one “m” means “shelter” or “protection.” The program is based on three guiding principles: Accompaniment, Awareness Building and Advocacy.
Organizations near the border that partner with the AMMPARO network have received families released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for reunification with their children. These AMMPARO partners provide shelter, hospitality and food to immigrant families and children.
Go to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to learn more about family separation and why families come to the United States seeking asylum. Join the ELCA Advocacy Action Network to stay informed about what the ELCA is doing in response to these policies. And visit LA-MN’s Take Action page to learn more about what you can do to put a stop to inhumane policies that separate families and children.