Before “Zero-Tolerance” We Called It “Betraying Family Values”
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the State Department’s new “zero-tolerance” border enforcement policy, the issue of family separation has exploded in the headlines… but it’s not a new concept for LIRS.
For more than a decade, LIRS has been monitoring and advocating for children and families seeking asylum at our southern border, and we wrote the book on the importance of family values within our immigration system…in fact we wrote several.
Back in 2007, LIRS published Locking Up Family Values, a 75 page report detailing the practice of family immigration detention. The report opens with the story of Dominca:
“Dominica is a Honduran asylum seeker detained with her two children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. Nelly is nine years old and Alice is three. At night they all sleep together in the bottom bunk of their jail cell because they are afraid. Nelly says, “If you are not good, they will take you away from your mom.”
After nearly three years of media exposure, advocacy, and a lawsuit, the Obama Administration ceased detaining families at Hutto, signaling an encouraging shift away from this policy.
In 2014, LIRS published Locking Up Family Values Again drawing attention to the renewed use and abuse of families at the border, as the government struggled to manage a sudden surge of women and children seeking asylum from intensifying violence in Central America.
Then in early 2017, we began to notice a concerning increase in family separation cases at the border. In response, LIRS worked with coalition partners to publish a new report entitled Betraying Family Values and brought the matter to the attention of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In December of 2017, LIRS doubled down and led coalition partners to submit a formal complaint to the Department of Homeland Security. The complaint offered up heartbreaking testimony from families who were separated and garnered attention from national media, leading to numerous efforts to combat family separation and dominating headlines through March of 2018.
“When I finally spoke to Rodrigo, [my five-year old son], we both cried. He seemed very upset. He asked why his father had left him. I did not know what to tell him to make him feel better. He is far too young to be separated from his parents.”
When Sessions announced the “zero-tolerance” policy in May, LIRS was grimly prepared for the news. In a public statement, LIRS called on Congress to preserve the integrity of U.S. immigration policy, asserting that: “family unity is a fundamental human right, recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, and has long been held as a cornerstone of U.S. migration policy.”
Today, LIRS continues to fight doggedly against the policy of family separation on Capitol Hill, but we’re also working with our partners on the ground to address the immediate needs of children and families at our border.
At this very moment, LIRS partners are on the ground, seeking to provide unaccompanied children with immediate shelter and beds, medical services, counseling, and therapy to help them deal with the tremendous trauma of being separated from their families.