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Brief / Policy & Reports / Immigration / Pathway

Children and Families at the Border: 5 Ways to Help

Updated October 30, 2020

In the last two years, the number of children and families arriving at the border seeking asylum has increased dramatically, with more than 95,000 children and families arriving in May of 2019 alone. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has implemented policies like zero tolerance, family separation, metering, “remain-in-Mexico,” and are now using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to shut down the border and expel thousands of children and families without their chance to claim asylum.

A new House Judiciary Committee report confirms what many have long suspected to be true: the Trump Administration always intended to separate families, with blatant disregard towards individuals and families’ rights to claim asylum. The report shows how the earliest directives to separate families began as early as February 2017, just one month after President Trump’s inauguration. And, despite concerns raised within the Administration and its inability to track the families it separated, pressed on to implement its nationwide Zero Tolerance policy, which resulted in more than 5,000 children separated from their families, and at least 545 who still have had no contact with their parents years later. It’s clear the Administration has proved completely unwilling or unable to keep families together since the very beginning.

Every day, horrifying new stories emerge about the humanitarian crisis at the southern border. The crisis has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which the Administration has used as an excuse to separate families at the border. At a time when people seeking legal protection are extremely vulnerable, the Administration has further dismantled the asylum system in the U.S. and is putting people in danger. Federal agencies are not prepared to handle the spike in arrivals, contributing to well-publicized issues with overcrowding in unsafe and unsanitary conditions for extended periods of time. Once they are released, they struggle to navigate the broken process to apply for legal asylum.

Want to help, but not sure where to get started? Here are five ways you can support directly-impacted families and organizations serving immigrant communities:

1. Help keep families together, and keep them healthy, safe, and out of detention

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Donate to organizations providing food, shelter, health care, and other critical services to asylum-seekers recently released from detention.

WHY THIS IS NEEDED: The Trump Administration has exploited the coronavirus crisis to separate families through the expulsion of more than 159,000 people, including 8,800 children at the border, and has tried to accelerate the deportation of unaccompanied minors already in the U.S. even faster, rather than letting them reunite with family while pursuing their asylum cases. Additionally, the Trump Administration has used the public health crisis to force parents into making an impossible choice: of either waiving their Flores Agreement rights and continuing to suffer while detained in family incarceration, or being separated from their children. 

Families frequently struggle to locate health services, food, and other basic needs, and may find it difficult to connect with their family members who may already be living in the U.S.

2. Help asylum-seeking children and families access legal services

WHAT YOU CAN DO: You can also donate to partner organizations providing legal services to children and families who are navigating the broken asylum system in the United States.

WHY THIS IS NEEDED: These organizations work tirelessly to ensure families and children have legal representation to make their case for asylum properly. After someone seeking asylum demonstrates to a federal officer that they have a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country, they are scheduled for a court hearing to make their case for asylum. 

Winning an asylum case is extraordinarily difficult, with a high bar for evidence and a great deal of legal technicalities. Unfortunately, the United States does not provide access to court-appointed counsel to immigrants facing deportation who are unable to afford a lawyer. 

But when families and children seeking asylum have legal representation, their chance of success at making their case increases significantly. Access to counsel also ensures they keep their court dates and follow through on the process. In fact, research shows that 99% of asylum-seekers with legal representation report to their court hearings.

3. Demand Congress end the inhumane policies fueling the crisis at the border

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Contact your Member of Congress and demand they work to provide a humane, orderly process for immigrants at the border that protects their ability to lawfully seek asylum. After you’ve made your call, consider donating to a local organization advocating for immigrant families.

Ask your elected officials to end practices like metering and “remain-in-Mexico” that prevent people from applying for asylum, to end the indefinite detention of children and families, and to address the root causes of this issue by investing in efforts with proven records of success, like alternatives to detention, economic investment in regions like the Northern Triangle, and the Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program.

WHY THIS IS NEEDED: Congress is responsible for responding to the influx of children and families at the border, and to amend the damage done by the President’s disastrous policies which have fueled the crisis. 

At the same time, President Trump is asking Congress to allocate taxpayer dollars to expand the mass incarceration of families. Congress holds the “power of the purse” to determine how much money will be appropriated to federal agencies and how the funds can be used.

4. Show your support for immigrant families, and encourage your friends and family to join you

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Take the #ForOurFamilies pledge and commit to fighting for a more prosperous country for all of us.

WHY THIS IS NEEDED: To solve this crisis, we must go beyond just reversing the damage done over the last four years; we must transform our entire immigration system #ForOurFamilies. This pathway forward, and the pathway to rebuilding a more prosperous country for everyone, must start by creating the ability for the 11 million undocumented immigrants to become citizens. It’s vital for the success of all American families, so that everyone can fully contribute, in the place we call home.

5. Demand Presidential candidates commit to humane treatment of immigrants

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Contact the candidates you support/are interested in and make clear that you want them to commit to ending mass incarceration of families seeking asylum, and instead advance a humane and orderly process for those seeking asylum at the border that ensures due process. To rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis, we’ll need our leaders to commit to building a pathway for our 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been frontline workers during the pandemic. Commit your vote to the candidate who will address and create new commonsense immigration pathways for citizenship and asylum as a Day One priority.

WHY THIS IS NEEDED: While only Congress can provide long-term solutions, the policies advanced by the Trump Administration have directly fueled the crisis and inhumane conditions at the border, and must be addressed by the next president.

What if I want to donate supplies or volunteer my time?

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Donating directly to local shelters and service organizations is the most effective way of helping families and children get the supplies they need, in part because federal agencies have claimed they are legally prohibited from accepting donations, except in very specific circumstances.

WHY THIS IS NEEDED: Because members of the public are typically not admitted into detention centers, volunteer opportunities do not exist in the detention centers themselves. However, once released, the families, children, and individuals who have been detained have very specific needs, and these nonprofits and direct service organizations need help from you to meet those needs — although many currently have pandemic-related restrictions in place.

The groups serving them exercise a great deal of caution when providing services. Oftentimes, their needs are specific, and responding requires training and experience. For these reasons, many nonprofits are not currently accepting volunteers. However, those able to provide pro bono legal services are encouraged to visit KIND or AILA for information on opportunities.

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