Entangled Roots: The Role of Race in Policies that Separate Families

WASHINGTON, DC (November 14, 2018)—The Trump administration’s separation of families last summer, and its recent threats to reinstitute the policy, have drawn attention to the ways in which the government separates families. A new report from the Center for the Study of Social Policy examines the history of policies that separate families, and their entanglement with racism and discrimination. The report, Entangled Roots: The Role of Race in Policies that Separate Families, considers how the three publicly-funded systems that systematically separate families began to separate families of color more frequently than white families, and the legacy of that discrimination.

Consider for example:

  • Immigration enforcement. Though immigrants from Latin America make up an estimated 77 percent of the unauthorized population in the United States, they have constituted well over 90 percent of immigrants removed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in recent years.
  • Parental incarceration. In 2009, 11.4 percent of African-American children had a parent in prison, compared to 3.5 percent of Hispanic children and 1.8 percent of white children.
  • Removal from the home. One study found that 4.9 percent of white children will experience foster care placement before their eighteenth birthday, compared to 15.4 percent of Native American children and 11 percent of black children

“Racism has always played a central role in the publicly funded systems that separate families,” writes author Elisa Minoff. “It is time for us to step back and question the underlying assumptions shaping these systems, and the policies they implement.”

The report calls on policymakers “to end the routine separation of children from their parents. Family separations should be rare, and their harm to children should be mitigated in the extremely unusual circumstances when they are necessary.”

“Above all, we need to heed the voices of the children themselves. Terrence, who was fifteen when his mother was arrested for drug use, fended for himself for five months before finally receiving help. He explained how policy should have responded to his family’s situation: ‘I think they shouldn’t have took my mama to jail. Just made her go to court, and give her some community service, or some type of alternative, where she can go to the program down the street. Give her the opportunity to make up for what she did. Using drugs, she’s hurting herself. You take her away from me, now you’re hurting me.’”

Visit www.CSSP.org to read the full report.

About CSSP. The Center for the Study of Social Policy is a national, non-profit policy organization that connects community action, public system reform, and policy change to create a fair and just society. We work to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children and families thrive by translating ideas into action, promoting public policies grounded in equity, supporting strong and inclusive communities, and advocating with and for all children and families marginalized by public policies and institutional practices.