Associations across a wide spectrum of sectors—from mental health to business and manufacturing, along with ASAE—have joined a chorus of critics pressing the Trump administration to end its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that results in children being separated from their parents at the border.
The Trump administration, at least for now, is sticking to a controversial “zero-tolerance” policy that results in criminal prosecution of migrants who enter the U.S. illegally and the separation of parents from children traveling with them.
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed last week that at least 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the policy was announced in May. Political pressure to end the practice is mounting, including from the association community.
Speaking to NBC News, American Psychiatric Association President Altha Stewart warned that even a short period of separation is harmful to children.
“Any forced separation is highly stressful for children and can cause lifelong trauma, as well as an increased risk of other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Stewart said, adding that the association’s position is that “these children deserve our protection and should remain with their families as they seek asylum.”
The American Psychological Association, meanwhile, sent a letter to President Trump last week calling a change in the current policy “desperately needed.” Its public policy team posted the full letter, also sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, on Twitter last week.
Nabil El-Ghoroury, Ph.D., executive director of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), noted that for many families, separation at the border compounds trauma they experienced in their home countries or during their travel to the U.S.
“Families who are fleeing violence may have already experienced substantial traumas on their way to the United States. Parent-child separations like this may worsen the suffering for both the children and the parents,” he said in a news release.
“As marriage and family therapists, we are intimately aware of how separating children from parents can critically harm the family unit and create long-term, adverse effects on both child and parental mental health,” CAMFT President Jan Mellinger added.
Regardless of politics, a zero-tolerance policy that leads to children being separated from parents is inconsistent with bedrock American principles and values.
Business Groups Oppose Policy
Leaders of two of the nation’s largest organizations representing the U.S. business community used strong language to condemn the policy on Tuesday.
“Today in America children are being held hostage by political partisans. Manufacturers demand that Congress and the administration fix this horrifying injustice now,” National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons said in a statement. “There are no excuses and no one else to blame. It can be accomplished in a few days—or even hours. The administration can change this policy with a stroke of a pen. Congress can pass a clean bill prohibiting the separation of immigrant children from their parents and send it to the president for his signature.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, in a post on the Chamber website, cited comments from administration officials that the policy of separating families is intended to pressure Congress to agree to immigration reforms that the administration is seeking.
“Let that sink in for a second,” Donohue wrote. “Our government is forcibly separating children—including toddlers—from their parents and sending them to detention facilities as a means of sending a message and influencing Congress. Surely a nation as big, generous, and compassionate as the United States can find a way to prevent separating children from their parents at the border. If we can’t agree on that, then we can’t agree on anything.”
He added: “Individuals entering the United States illegally should be returned to their home country, but that does not require separating children from parents.”
ASAE President and CEO John H. Graham IV echoed the calls for change. “Regardless of politics, a zero-tolerance policy that leads to children being separated from parents is inconsistent with bedrock American principles and values,” Graham said in a statement Tuesday. “ASAE encourages the administration and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work toward immediate resolution of this crisis, reuniting affected families and adopting an immigration policy that better reflects who we are as a nation that protects its borders but does not sacrifice its ideals in doing so.”
Although the administration continued to hold firm, congressional Republicans are feeling the heat. According to a Politico report, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt asked Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on Monday whether the crisis at the border could become “the Republicans’ new Katrina and the president’s new Katrina.”
“Yes. I suppose it could,” Toomey said. “Clearly, it’s a horrendous situation if a small child is being taken away from the child’s actual mother. We’ve got to solve this problem.”