On Zero Tolerance, There is More Work to Be Done

Over the past month, millions of people across the country and overseas have called for the administration to cease separating children and families at the border. Yesterday President Trump signed an executive order that purports to do just that, but it would be a mistake for us to celebrate this new direction.

First, there is no plan on the table to reunite the over 2,300 children who have been ripped from their parents. Every day that these children are away from their families is adding further trauma to them and their parents. 

Second, the order is attempting to nullify the 1997 consent decree resulting in the Flores Settlement Agreement that guarantees protections for minors apprehended by immigration authorities. Under Flores and subsequent court decisions, the government is required to limit the amount of time unaccompanied minors can be detained to 20 days and keep them in the least restrictive setting possible. President Trump’s executive order calls on the Department of Justice to seek a modification of the Flores settlement so that children can be detained indefinitely, with no apparent minimum standards for detention facilities. This is inhumane and inconsistent with what we know about child welfare, trauma, and what children need to thrive. 

Third, until new family detention centers are built we can only wonder where these children will go. There is nothing in the executive order that addresses this issue nor indicates what level of standard of care these facilities will be required to meet.

So, as much as we might be tempted to feel relief that this horrific policy, which has shaken our country to its core, has been suspended, the fight for justice for these families and humane policies must not wane. We must push for longer term policies that are driven by what we know about best practices in child welfare, trauma, child development, immigration, housing, and social justice to ensure that the thousands of families who are fleeing violence and extreme poverty secure the better future for their children that they seek.

Susan Notkin is a Senior Vice President at CSSP.