by Jessica Cabness, PhD
January 23, 2021
There are 666 undocumented minor children detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, separated from their parents during the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy meted out to undocumented aliens (Cassady, 11/9/20). Separating children as young as three from their parents defies comprehension to all except those who regard undocumented children as less than human. Separating children from their parents is traumatizing for both the affected children and their parents. Any parent who has momentarily been separated from a child in a crowd understands the panic and angst that such separation entails. [This is evident in the Gospel of Luke (2:41-46) when Mary and Joseph, travelling with a caravan on the return to their home, realize that the young Jesus is not among the caravan and they return to Jerusalem where, three days later, they encounter him. In the meantime, they were likely sick with worry that harm had befallen him.]
Separating children from their families potentially causes irreparable harm to children’s emotional development, creating emotional insecurity and potentially affecting a child’s ability to meaningfully connect with others due to deep-seated fears of separation. Children who are separated for long periods of time from their parents grow up believing that the world is a place to be distrusted, a place in which their lives may be uprooted and disrupted without notice. Thus, the consequences of separating children from their parents at the southern U.S.-Mexico border will have individual and societal implications for years to come (e.g., Muniz de la Pena, Pineda, & Punsky, 2019; Rowatt et al, 2020; Stang & Stark, 2019).
Intentionally separating undocumented children from their parents is unjust, unethical, inhumane, and violates natural law. In “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis (October 2020) exhorts us to recognize the inviolable dignity of all human persons, irrespective of their location, social condition, age, race, nationality, ethnicity, or abilities. For the foregoing reasons, the policy of forced separation must be immediately reversed under the Biden administration.
Reuniting Undocumented Children With Parents
Reuniting undocumented children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border will be no small task as some children were not carrying documents identifying them or their parents at the time of their separation. Moreover, their parents were turned away at the border and summarily ejected from the United States. Thus, without certified documents, reuniting children with their parents will be daunting at best, but not an insurmountable task for capable U.S. Government bilingual workers employed with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigrant and Customs Division.
Each child (or children together, if of the same family) should be interviewed for all information related to the family of origin, and the information should be cross-referenced digitally with any identifying information pertaining to the parents at the time of the separation. With this information, U.S. Government personnel should be dispatched to the surrounding Mexican cities, and counties to scour these areas for clues potentially pointing to the parents’ location. If parents had traveled from as far away as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, or Costa Rica, then the aid of U.S. Embassies or Consulates in those countries should be enlisted for full-throttle and multi-pronged reunification efforts.
The U.S. Government should undertake every measure to reunite the children separated at the Mexican border, with their parents. This Reunification Policy initiative will entail a renewed, respectful, and amicable relationship with and the cooperation of the Mexican government. For this reason, diplomatic talks should be immediately initiated by the U.S. Department of State, working in tandem with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, to which the migrant children have been entrusted.
During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Biden promised an Executive Order to help reunite migrant families separated by the Trump administration (McEvoy, 10/29/2020). The time is now.
Caassady, D. (November 9, 2020). The number of separated migrant kids has grown to 666. Forbes (accessed online on January 21, 2021).
McEvoy, Jemima (October 29, 2020). Biden promises executive order to help runite migrant families separated by Trump administration. Forbes (accessed online on January 23, 2021).
Muniz de la Pena, C., Pineda, L., & Punsky, B. (2019). Working with parents and children separated at the border: Examining the impact of the Zero Tolerance Policy and beyond. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. 12, 153-164.
Pope Francis (October 2020). Encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on fraternity and social friendship. (Accessed online on November 6, 2020).
Rowatt, W., Al-Kire, R.L., Dunn, H., & Leman, J. (February 4, 2020). Attitudes toward separating immigrant families at the United States-Mexico Border. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 20(1). (Accessed online on January 23, 2021).
Stange, M. & Stark, B. (July 12, 2019). The ethical and public health implications of family separation. The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics. (Accessed online on January 23, 2021).
The New Testament. (1993). The gospel according to Luke. NJ: Catholic Book Publishing Co. 2:41-46. p. 142.