The undersigned organizations, which are committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect and the well-being of children, write to express our grave concern with the ongoing treatment of children at the United States border. As child welfare advocates with expertise in the impact of trauma on children, we are deeply alarmed by the reports of government-sanctioned conditions and separations, which knowingly expose children to emotional abuse and physical injury and draw clear comparisons to child abuse. We urge Congress and the Administration to immediately end these abusive acts toward children.
Despite an official end to the Administration’s Zero Tolerance Policy, recent reports have made clear that the federal government continues to separate children from parents and other caregivers with whom they arrive, including aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. Reports have also made clear that the standard of risk needed to justify a child’s separation from a caregiver is often not being met; therefore, the government’s actions are decidedly not in the best interest of the child and causing serious emotional harm. These ongoing separations are unjustified, unlawful, and deeply detrimental to children’s wellbeing.
Separation, detention, cages, deplorable physical and hygiene conditions, bullying and intimidation by guards, and being held in enormous institutional facilities reflect traumatic practices in direct conflict with what science tells us about healthy child development. Traumatic experiences, toxic stress, and prolonged exposure to unsafe conditions, like those children are experiencing in ICE and CBP custody, have lifelong consequences for children. The U.S. government must stop intentionally subjecting children to these experiences, separating children from parents and caregivers, and holding them in conditions of confinement that violate state child abuse statutes across the country.
It is unconscionable that the federal government would sanction conditions of confinement for children that can be equated to child abuse as part of any policy. For both U.S.-born children and immigrant children, the government has a responsibility to ensure safety and prevent an unreasonable risk of harm. The current policies at the border do not meet this minimal standard.
We urge the Administration take swift action to ensure children are never detained for more than 72 hours in CBP facilities and to ensure that all CBP facilities that temporarily house children provide safe conditions that do not expose children to an unreasonable risk of physical or mental harm. We also call on the U.S. Congress to take swift action if the Administration will not. The members of this Coalition are ready and eager to join with the Administration and the U.S. Congress to consider how to best achieve this goal.