ABA President Statement: Stop Routine Family Separations


Earlier this week, the media reported that a Honduran woman was breast-feeding her daughter at a Texas detention center when a government agent took the infant from her arms. The official said the child would be returned, but she was not. Unfortunately, that story was not an outlier. ABA staff and volunteers who provide legal services to children in border shelters have witnessed first-hand the traumatic effects of separation on these children and their parents.

We can differ on issues of national immigration policy, but don’t we all agree that it is simply shocking that hundreds of young children are separated from their parents just because their parents brought them across the U.S. border illegally? It’s worth noting that first-time illegal entry is a misdemeanor.

The American Bar Association has asked the Trump administration to stop routine family separations intended to deter entry into the United States by asylum-seekers and others. I issued a statement calling for an end to this disturbing policy on May 30, and in a letter earlier this week to the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security, I spelled out arguments against this inhumane and arguably unlawful practice. I concluded: "The systemic practice of separating parents and children is antithetical to our values as a country, appears to violate longstanding precedent protecting rights to family integrity, burdens the federal criminal justice and immigration adjudication systems and increases costs to the government." Read the entire letter here.

While members of both parties - from Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) - have called for a halt to this very recent practice, no specific bipartisan legislative measure has yet emerged to address it. The time for congressional action, not just speeches, has come.

I ask you to contact your senators and representative with a simple message: "Enact legislation to stop routine separation of immigrant families at the border." As lawyers, you can stress the due process implications of using family separation as a weapon in the efforts against illegal immigration. (I discuss this more fully in my letter linked above.) You can make your voice heard by logging onto the ABA Grassroots Action website here, where you can get information about how to contact legislators with this straightforward request. Please lend your voice to this important effort.


Hilarie Bass