Washington, D.C. — Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has confirmed in numerous news reports that he is considering a plan to institutionalize a policy of separating mothers from their children upon arrival at the U.S. southern border. This measure, which the secretary has publicly referred to as an attempt to deter refugees from seeking safe haven in the United States, runs afoul of U.S. legal obligations and is inhumane and contrary to American values. The women and children who will be impacted by this policy have experienced severe persecution and violence in their counties of origin, which they fled because they felt they had no other choice. Taking children from their parents exacerbates and deepens their trauma.
Yesterday, Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center ( NIJC ) joined a chorus of advocacy organizations and elected representatives demanding that Secretary Kelly reject such measures. In the letter, several Central American mothers and NIJC clients shared their reactions to the proposed policy with Secretary Kelly. The women requested that their names not be shared publicly for fear of repercussions under the Trump administration's deportation regime, but their words lay bare the inhumanity and dire consequences of responding to a humanitarian and refugee crisis by tearing families apart.
- "If we were separated, it would be horrible. I presented myself at the border. I was very afraid because I did not know what was going to happen. Everything felt so uncertain. My daughter had not eaten anything all day. This knowledge broke me. My daughter, she was very anxious. She was very nervous and only wanted to be with me. She did not want to separate herself from me."
- "I cannot imagine my daughter losing the love of her mother. It would be so painful. She is so young, she cannot be without her mother."
- "If we had been separated, I think [my daughter] may have had panic over everything. She would not have wanted to eat, see anyone. I know her, I know how she is, and I know she would have stopped eating. I think that would have traumatized her. At this age, they need their mother. They don't understand what is happening or the process."
The mothers emphasized that a policy mandating separation from their children — heartrending as it would be — would not have deterred them from running for their lives. Their priority in fleeing to the United States was to find safety for their children.
- "When I decided to flee to the United States, I didn't know anything about what would happen to us when we got there. I didn't know if we would be together or apart. I only knew we had to come. When you receive threats from the gang like we did, you have to get out or your family will be dead. We didn't have any other options."
- "I had never heard of what was asylum. All I knew was that the United States was a place where people could be protected and safe. I think I would have come to the United States anyway, even if I knew they would separate me. This is because I knew that even if we were separated, my faith would have been that my children would be safe. And I would be safe."
- "If I had known we might be separated, I would have come anyway, to ask for asylum. I knew in Honduras I could not stay. My child was also in danger in Honduras. I knew it was possible that I could die or my child could die. I knew that my child could be kidnapped. Even though I would have been separated, my hope would be that it would not be forever and that if I won they would give me my son or if I lost they would give me my son. But I would beg that they did not."
- "Even if it would keep us together, I could not stay in my home country. Our lives were always at risk. There was no other place we could exit, no other place for us, no other support. The authorities there don't help."
On behalf of the mothers, fathers, and children fleeing for their lives who still see the United States as a beacon of hope, NIJC urges Secretary Kelly to put himself in these mothers' shoes and abandon consideration of any policy that tears parents from their children.