Safe Passage Project Comment on Family Separations

Safe Passage, January 26, 2022

Safe Passage recently submitted a public comment to the Department of Homeland Securty (DHS) detailing the experiences of unaccompanied children at the border and how to best reunite them with their families.

In December, DHS, on behalf of the Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families (Task Force), requested comments from the public with their recommendations for ways to minimize the separation of migrant parents and legal guardians and children entering the United States. The comments submitted are meant to assist in the drafting of a report required by the Executive order titled “Establishment of Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families”.

From our comment, submitted on January 25, 2022:

We encourage the U.S. government to view family unity through a broader lens and create and implement policies that keep children with trusted caregivers whether or not they are the child’s parent or legal guardian. Many children migrate with non-parent caregivers who nonetheless are their primary caregiver or may be a safe alternative caregiver.

One way to operationalize expanded family unity would be to co-locate Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) staff along with medical providers and language interpreters at the border. Once the determination is made that a child is unaccompanied but traveling with an immediate relative (e.g., siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins), safety screenings should be carried out at the border but with a presumption towards the maintenance of the family unit.

Locating ORR staff at the border to quickly assess non-parent caregivers will not only minimize family separations, it will also decrease the number of children being placed in government custody. Having fewer children in ORR custody would allow ORR to end its reliance on and permanently close inappropriate and harmful large-scale detention facilities, including influx and emergency intake sites (EIS). Additionally, this will allow ORR to refocus its limited resources on revamping family reunification capacity so that children do not spend long periods of time in government custody, and transitioning away from large-scale facilities to small, home or home-like shelter settings for unaccompanied children in exceptional cases where temporary government care may still be needed. ORR must shift its model of care away from large-scale detention facilities to small, home or home-like settings. Investments must also be made in community-based wraparound services in family-based placements.