1. Background
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

Family Separation at the Hands of the State

By Hannah Graf Evans, June 1, 2018

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that as a matter of policy they would be forcibly separating family units who have entered the United States together.

Under this new policy, adults are prosecuted and detained for improper entry and children are put into the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and processed as “unaccompanied”. It can take weeks before a parent knows the whereabouts of their child. This unprecedented policy traumatizes parents and children alike, and expands criminalization of asylum seekers.

As this news of this cruel policy has broken, contradictory information has spread. The breadth and impact of this policy is still being revealed. Some reports, especially on social media, have conflated news about other migrant children with those impacted by the “zero tolerance” family separation policy.

At FCNL, we oppose this “zero tolerance” policy. Humane immigration policy must keep families together, protect access to asylum, and utilize alternatives to detention for all those navigating the immigration or asylum processes.

Here are the key facts about these new policies:

  1. In the past few weeks, 658 children were separated from the adults they were traveling with under this new “zero tolerance” policy. Though the DHS Secretary stated on record that this policy will only affect those who arrive in between ports of entry, there are cases of family separation happening at ports of entry as well.

  2. In order to seek asylum, a person must be in the United States. It is a requirement under U.S. and international law that we hear claims of asylum with due process. Most of these family units have a credible fear of return (the first step in determining an bona fide asylum claim) but their cases are not going through due process. Instead, they are being criminally prosecuted and detained for entry.

  3. Family separation as a matter of policy is separate from the children you may have heard about being “lost”. This reporting is misleading and focusing on this could result in unintended, harmful consequences. The Office of Refugee Resettlement remains the appropriate agency to care for children – not Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The placement of children into safe, unrestricted care should not be tied up with immigration enforcement.

What can you do?

Contact your members of Congress, who are currently discussing funding for additional immigration enforcement. Tell them to stop funding the forcible separation of families. Demand they use their power to increase oversight of existing enforcement, and push for an end to this new “zero tolerance” policy that will do irreparable harm to young families.

Press Release #FamiliesBelongTogether: Faith Leaders Decry Family Separation 


In concert with the National Day of Action for Children, faith leaders across traditions join the national outcry against families being separated at the U.S. border, the detention and prosecution of parents travelling with children, and documented acts of abuse by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) against vulnerable families.

Legislative Ask Protect Dreamers Without Extreme Enforcement 

Enact True Bipartisan Immigration Reform

Congress must protect Dreamers by enacting narrow, bipartisan legislation that gives citizenship to young immigrants without exacerbating endless and cruel enforcement.

Hannah Graf Evans

  • Legislative Representative, Immigration and Refugee Policy

Hannah Graf Evans lobbies for compassionate immigration policies. Our immigration system should empower immigrants and the American communities to which they belong, lift up the voices of border communities, and ensure adequate protections for refugees, asylum-seekers and victims of trafficking. Hannah co-chairs the steering committee of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, made up of over 45 faith-based organizations.