Immigration Concerns in the United States (UPDATED)

An opinion piece by APF director, Jeff Boyd (who was a Republican but has been an independent for roughly two decades). The post is updated with two lists of organizations who are active in caring for children caught in the middle of a conflict not of their making.

In the past few days, Adventist entities have denounced the practice of separating parents and children in immigration detention facilities, including:

To get a semi-insider perspective, I talked with my wife, Charissa, about this issue. For five years she worked with two faith-based nonprofits as a case worker and a teacher with unaccompanied immigrant youth, including refugees and victims of human trafficking, among others.

Understanding where we are today requires going back a few years, back before both the Trump and Obama administrations. At a minimum, we need to go back to 1985 when Jenny Flores--an unnocompanied teen from Central America--was detained at the US-Mexico border by INS, held with adult males and females, and strip-searched repeatedly. The ACLU came to her rescue, filing a class-action lawsuit arguing that US detention policies for minors violated their rights under the Constitution.

The case (Reno v Flores) had a long and complicated history (look it up), with high points in 1992 and 1993 before the Supreme Court. Then in 1997, under the Clinton Administration, the sides formed a consent agreement affecting the treatment of children detained by the US government. The terms of this agreement are central to the current debate (see ACLU PDF). provides the following summary:

The settlement calls on Federal authorities to treat “all minors with dignity, respect and special concern for their particular vulnerability as minors. The agreement establishes minimum standards for initial detention and a policy favoring release of minors. It also requires that children who remain in federal custody be placed in the least restrictive environment and mandates provision of information, treatment and services.

You can learn more about it at Human Rights First or Women's Refugee Commission, but essentially the parties agreed that kids shouldn't be held in jail-like conditions with adults, that they need to receive certain services beyond ICE's capacity to provide, and that there should be a plan for whom kids can be released to.

The intention of the agreement wasn't to separate children from parents; it was to separate children from non-family adults and to put them in a more safe and supportive environment while the legal process was underway.

Unaccompanied youth were put in foster care during their legal process, and kids with parents were either released with their parents or were held in custody together. Not that this always happened; it's complicated.

So that's the background--very briefly--but what is happening now? It's also complicated. :) And it dissolves into partisan politics pretty quickly. For example, Trump has tweeted that the law should be changed so families aren't ripped apart, and yet his May 2018 "zero-tolerance" policy contributed to the separation of kids and parents. Here's a summary (I know, I know, fake news): "A total of 1,174 children have been taken away from their mothers and fathers in the Border Patrol’s South Texas Rio Grande Valley sector, with many brought to the Central Processing Station in McAllen, Texas, since the policy was announced on May 7, according to Manuel Padilla, the Border Patrol sector chief" (NBC).

Today Trump signed an executive order to keep families together (PBS), but how this is implemented is important. We'll get back to this.

So depending on one's political allegiances and biases, either Clinton was the villain who instituted the forced separation and Trump is the hero who called for its end, or the Clinton administration supported a positive change for kids in detention and Trump is the villain for his zero-tolerance policy approach that began separating families in greater numbers. It's hard to know the truth when our biases tell us how to interpret the world and who to even listen to. It's hard to know the truth even for us independents who aren't trying to make this about one party being saints and the other devils. We wish both parties would quit the blame game.

I don't know how Snopes became the supposed oracle of truth, but here's their take.

So yes, implementation is important. Vox looked at these complications a bit. If Reno v Flores is overruled, would we go back to the problems of the 1980s that it attempted to fix? Do we really want to go there? I personally believe we can do better for children and for families. Rather than rushing to blame the other party or to change an agreement that had been working--mas o menos--until May 2018 (a contested statement, I know), I think we need to slow down and think about the Golden Rule. For us Christians, it seems to me that the Golden Rule is a better starting point than with partisan interests. How would I want to be treated if I were running with my family from violence and extreme poverty (different categories, I know)? I think that's a good place to start reflecting on how to build on the improvements brought by Reno v Flores. It's the only way to move forward, in my opinion, instead of backward.

Really, what would I want? I'd want a process. I'd want to be safe during the process. I'd want my children to be safe and cared for during the process. If I could safely be with my children, I'd want that. For me, that's the starting point for humane legislation. The Golden Rule doesn't mean there's no process; it means I would want (and therefore should be advocating for) a clear, safe, organized, rational process that takes care of people during one of their hardest times.

Thanks, Charissa, for helping me better understand Reno v Flores. And thank you for all the ways you have cared for and continue to care for the hurting and vulnerable children of our world. Who are the heroes in this situation? It's you and the amazing people you've worked with over the years, from foster parents to teachers, case managers to lawyers, fundraisers to interns.

BONUS 1: For you movie-watchers, these are worth your time:

BONUS 2: Places to Donate

Thanks, Karah Thompson, for putting together this list of organizations to donate to:

The Young Center: Working since 2004 to advocate for immigrant children's rights and assigning guardian ad lidem to underrepresented youth. They work all over the US but have especially been working in the border region. They actively work to change immigration policy and advocate for humane treatment of all immigrants.

Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project: Working in the Arizona region to provide free legal support and advocate for immigrants through the process. Serving since 1989, they are passionate about changing the laws and ensuring that asylum seekers and immigrants alike are treated with dignity and respect. 

RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services): Several projects fall under this umbrella and they all direct funds to the various aspects of legal defense and reunifying separated families in the immigration process. 

  • The Bond Fund- helps raise funds for parents to be released on bail to reunite with their families if able. 
  • Leaf Project - provides legal representation for minors, and provides education and advocacy in this arena. 

BONUS 3: More Places to Donate

Thanks, Charissa Boyd, for putting together this list of organizations to donate to:

If you want some practical ways to support agencies who are caring for unaccompanied immigrant youth, call the following organizations in your states and ask how you can help. They are always in need of more support.

California: International Christian Adoptions—(951) 695-3336
Maryland: Bethany Christian Services—(410) 721-2835 and Board of Child Care—(410) 922-2100
Michigan: Bethany Christian Services—(616) 224-7550
Oklahoma: Lilyfield—(866) 397-7202
South Carolina: Lutheran Services Carolinas—(803) 849-4009. 
Texas: Upbring—(915) 771-0281 and (361) 400-1200
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services:
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: 

Image credit: By Sean DuBois seandubois ( [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons