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All Families Belong TogetheR Advocates urge the Biden administration to protect family unity

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2023 Press Contact: press@welcomewithdignity.org

Washington, DC – The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign condemns all forms of family separation, including recent reports that Customs and Border Protections (CBP) is separating family units in Southern California. Unfortunately, this is the latest example of the Biden administration’s ongoing practice of separating families. Families and individuals fleeing persecution have the legal right to seek safety in a humane, dignified, and fair process. We urge CBP to stop separating families, which is both unconscionable and violates the administration’s own policy. We urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to 1) Swiftly reunite families currently separated due to inconsistent case processing at the border; 2) Process people and families seeking asylum for release into their networks of care in accordance with U.S. federal immigration law; 3) Adopt a broader common-sense definition of “family unit,” document all familial relationships, and streamline consistent release processing for all members of a family who travel together; and 4) Coordinate and communicate with nonprofits and community-based organizations to facilitate the swift reunification of separated families and support families as they navigate the asylum process. “CBP’s conduct is unconscionable. Families should never be torn apart,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. “We know separating families seeking asylum is cruel and traumatic. We know it’s wrong and that we must do better. Shortly after President Biden took office, he committed to protect ‘family unity’ ‘except in the most extreme circumstances.’ The President must uphold this commitment. DHS must work to swiftly reunite families and prevent family separation from continuing. We must meet the current humanitarian needs with humane solutions. This includes collaborating with and funding nonprofits and community organizations providing support and services to people seeking asylum.”

“In the past two days I’ve consoled a wife terrified that she will never see her husband again, and a father who asked me about his daughters with tears in his eyes. It is unconscionable to tear people out of the arms of their loved ones and drop them off across a city with zero resources or information on how to reunite with their families. This is an intentional strategy pulled straight out of the Trump years to create chaos, inflict terror, and revert to sadistic tactics rather than having the courage to welcome people with dignity and compassion—which a handful of non-profits on a shoestring budget have demonstrated is possible. Imagine what would be possible if local and federal governments, who have infinitely more resources, took the same approach. Instead, the best of America has shown up to pick up the pieces, consoling recent arrivals, and putting together a herculean effort to try and reunite people with their loved ones,” said Paola Luisi of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

“Why does CBP continue to inhumanely rip families apart at the border? It was completely unacceptable when the Trump administration was doing it, and it’s equally unacceptable for the Biden administration to continue this traumatic practice. I’ve seen firsthand a wife crying for her missing husband as she heads to a church shelter; a mom begging for help to find her missing 18-year-old son; a mom standing in a parking lot for 3 days, watching every CBP bus drop migrants off until she finally found her 20-year-old daughter. ImmDef demands that DHS uphold its own policy to keep family units together and calls on the Biden Administration to take immediate steps to ensure that all separated families are reunited,said Lindsay Toczylowski, Executive Director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center.

“When the Trump Administration began separating asylum seeking families at the border, we saw worldwide outrage, and we heard screams for accountability and reform. Today, we continue to see CBP and Border Patrol separating families under the Biden Administration, and instead of calls to action, we see only the complacency of our “allies” in Congress and hear only the silence of the “family values” crowd. Hundreds of asylum-seeking families that have been released at the border without their loved ones, having essentially been disappeared by the state. CBP has provided these asylum seekers with zero information about the whereabouts of their family members, leaving spouses, parents, brothers, and cousins to wander San Diego looking for a clue as to where their loved ones are being held, despite the fact that they entered custody together,” said Nicole Elizabeth Ramos, Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project director. “Many of these separated family members remain in Border Patrol Custody, with some being held incommunicado for as long as 10 days. Others have been silently shipped off to ICE detention centers thousands of miles away. We demand that CBP and Border Patrol immediately stop separating families who arrive at our border seeking international protection. There is no law enforcement interest or agency operational need that could justify the continuing of this practice. All families deserve to be together, not just white US citizen families living in the United States.”

“Families belong together and should be protected, not separated. Relying on NGOs to use their limited resources to advocate for reunification as they respond, night and day, to the uncoordinated release of people to the streets is unconscionable. We urge Congress to investigate and hold administration officials accountable for human rights abuses at the border,” shared Marisa Limón Garza, Executive Director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juárez, México and New Mexico. “We believe in supporting families, keeping them together and free. These separations are an unacceptable trauma that wound these families for the rest of their lives. Yet the Biden administration, like its predecessors, erodes our legal obligations to families seeking safety in our country through asylum. In doing so, the Administration risks normalizing this grotesque and inhumane treatment of immigrant families. America can and must do better.” “Save the Children strongly urges the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection to prioritize family unity in the processing and release of asylum seekers. Separating families makes a bad situation worse and inflicts additional emotional distress,” said Santiago Mueckay, Associate Director of Child and Family Migration at Save the Children. “We stand with local nonprofits in advocating for the preservation of family unity at the U.S.-Mexico border, recognizing that the well-being and safety of children should always be at the forefront of immigration policies. We also call on Customs and Border Protection to work with local nonprofits to formalize and improve the process to release of families.” “It is unacceptable for DHS to be working to repair the harm caused by the Trump administration’s separation of families with one hand while actively separating families with the other,” said Ann Garcia, Staff Attorney with the National Immigration Project. “We have seen the damage that family separation inflicts on families and we urge CBP to uphold its policy to maintain family unity as it processes families seeking asylum in the United States.”

“Family separation constituted a crime against humanity–the most serious kind of violation of international human rights law–when promoted and perpetrated during the Trump era, and must continue to be understood and resisted in the same terms today, when practiced by the Biden administration. This is especially disturbing because the Biden administration has opposed legal recognition of the right to seek full accountability and compensation for these crimes under Trump, which may result in impunity for the current administration’s crimes as well,” said Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area branch of the National Lawyers’ Guild and member of the leadership team, Witness at the Border. “This is outrageous and unacceptable on its own terms, and is yet another example of this administration’s retreat from full respect for international human rights standards in its immigration and border policies, including the negation of the right to seek asylum and the militarization of the border, and the externalization of cruel measures to contain and repress migration flows on Mexican territory and beyond.”

“Family separation is an unconscionable practice that inflicts lasting trauma on children and adults seeking safety,” said Blaine Bookey, Legal Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “It is deeply shameful that, after vowing to ‘never again’ separate families and creating a dedicated Family Reunification Task Force, the Biden administration is quietly pursuing the practice itself. We implore the administration to reverse course, uphold family unity when processing asylum seekers, and keep all families together, including LGBTQ+ families, grandparents traveling with grandchildren, and other relationships beyond the nuclear family. All families seeking safety at the U.S. border must have a fair and meaningful opportunity to pursue their legal claims together, outside the confines of detention, and with the support of the communities that stand ready to welcome them.”

“No family should be forced to wonder where their loved ones are for days or even months on end after crossing the US-Mexico border to save their lives,” said Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC). “WRC is concerned at recent reports of separation, which is traumatic regardless of the configuration of family involved. Family is family, and family members should not be needlessly processed and released separately and without means of contacting or locating each other. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to investigate these reports and its current practices, reunite currently separated families as quickly as possible, and ensure that families are processed together at the border.”

“At the time when Biden sought to be elected for President, he promised to deliver humane and comprehensive immigration policies, often denouncing the Trump administration’s assaults on immigrants, asylum seekers, and border communities. Three years later, not only has Biden failed to deliver on his promises, but has continued to let our immigration system harshly separate families. Our border enforcement policies continue to dehumanize, criminalize, and endanger innocent migrants seeking safety and refuge. Millions still stand in the shadows without the pathway to citizenship they deserve. It is not enough to say that border communities, human rights advocates, and communities of color are disappointed by the Biden administration’s failed promises; we are appalled by the inaction and change of direction on such an urgent issue,” remarked Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR). “The separation of innocent migrant families who are simply looking for protection and refuge from violence, poverty, and oppressive governments is unacceptable. Family separation is a shameful, shocking, and profoundly unsettling act that, under no circumstances, will be justified. We join our partners in denouncing this cruel practice and will continue to advocate for the rights and dignity of asylum seekers and refugees,” added Fernando Garcia.

“Separating families that seek asylum at the borders is inhumane and will have deeply harmful impacts on children. Children must not be left alone – without their parents – at any stage of their asylum process. We must push back on these harmful practices and we urge DHS to address and combat these practices immediately,” said Ali Aljundi, Membership Manager at Refugee Congress.

“Separating families at one of their most vulnerable points in life – seeking protection – is cruel and unnecessary” said Laura Sanchez, Legal Director at the Central American Resource Center of Northern California – CARECEN SF. “Every effort should be made to keep families together, and not further traumatize people who are already survivors of intense trauma. We call on the Biden Administration to create policies that welcome and heal rather than separate and harm. Keep families together.”

### Join the movement and sign our pledge to #WelcomeWithDignity. The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign for asylum rights is composed of more than 100 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org

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