Trump is All Family First, But Only with U.S. Children

People protesting family separation policy.
The vast majority of Americans oppose the Trump administration’s new policy of separating families at the border.

Last month, President Donald Trump signaled his administration’s dedication to keeping American families together in a Foster Care Awareness Month proclamation.

“My Administration is dedicated to bringing help and healing to families threatened by addiction so that parents and children can stay together in a safe and stable home environment,” Trump said in the proclamation.

In an almost pathological disconnect since, we have seen the White House demonstrate that what it knows to be best for American families can be sacrificed as an expendable bargaining chip in the battle over immigration reform.

In his May proclamation, Trump highlighted his signing of the Family First Prevention Services Act, a sweeping reform that permits federal funds once reserved for the removal of children to be spent on parents who would otherwise lose their children because of abuse or neglect. That change was predicated on the idea that unnecessarily ripping children away from their parents – even for a criminal offense – creates lasting damage to those youngsters.

The goal of domestic federal child welfare policy has always been to protect the “best interests of the child.” In such a system, removal should be the last resort, and there are layers of due process meant to ensure that parents have the chance to reunify.

For this president and the aggressive tentacles of his administration’s immigration apparatus, the same tenets of human decency don’t apply to children born in different countries.

We have seen the pictures of children fleeing violence and economic hardship in countries south of our border caged and left to sleep on cold concrete floors. We have heard their cries in an audio recording released by ProPublica.

President Trump, at a speech this week in which he defended his administration’s immigration policies.

There are already some standards about how we should treat children in our immigration system, a place where there are there are few solutions without great cost. The 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement lays out the government’s minimum responsibility when it comes to the detention, release and treatment of children held in detention facilities. “Every effort must be taken to ensure that the safety and well-being of the minors detained in these facilities are satisfactorily provided for by the staff,” the settlement reads.

Under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, we have grave concerns about the continued well-being of children who are traumatized by conditions that would not be permitted in a child welfare facility overseen by any jurisdiction in our country.

As the editorial leadership of The Chronicle of Social Change, a publication that covers the country’s child welfare system, we are horrified by the Trump administration’s treatment of young children. Through our coverage in the last seven years in The Chronicle and our decades of staff experience covering these issues in other publications, we collectively understand that children belong with their families whenever that is safely possible, and that separating them causes long-term trauma that can impact children for a lifetime.

The American child welfare system is far from perfect, but is at least built on the premise that separating families should be a last resort.

The U.S. foster care system is far from perfect, but its standards are designed to do the least amount of harm to children. The standards should be no different for children coming here with their families seeking safety and security. It is unacceptable that our president so blithely picks and chooses when the importance of the family unit applies.

The administration’s policy of family separation is a travesty and must be stopped. Many of our readers know the trauma caused by a child being removed from a parent’s arms – whether as a former foster youth, a children’s social worker or an elected official who works on these issues. People who lock children in cages and keep them in such conditions are prosecuted in this country, yet our own government is purposefully treating innocent children in this manner.

More than two thirds of Americans oppose Trump’s family separation. We are among them. And we ask you, throughout this nation’s child welfare system, to stand with the children and families being mistreated by a callous federal government.

Daniel Heimpel, Publisher

John Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Kim Hansel, Managing Editor

Jeremy Loudenback, Senior West Coast Editor

Christie Renick, Southwest Editor

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