WBA Issue Statement on Family Unity
The Administration’s decision to criminally prosecute adults crossing the southern border led to the separation of more than 2,600 children from their parents or other adults in the spring of 2018.1 Following intense political opposition to this policy, on June 20, 2018, the President signed an executive order stopping the separations, and a federal judge ordered the government to reunite all children under age 5 with their families within 14 days and reunite children age 5 and over with their families within 30 days.2 Unfortunately, months later, progress is slow, and as of mid-October 2018, hundreds of children remain separated from their parents.3
Family Unity is at the core of the mission of the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia. Since 1917, the WBA has worked toward key goals, which include maintaining the honor and integrity of the legal profession, promoting the administration of justice, and advancing and protecting the interests of women lawyers.
Nothing could be more seminal to these goals than supporting family unity, which is a fundamental legal and human right. Family unity is the basis upon which society stands and upon which the legal system is built. It allows for an ordered society and healthy communities, and it also supports the health and education of future generations.
Without family unity, women, men, children, and their families face not only injustice, but also tragic and lasting repercussions that affect their daily lives. For example, it is an accepted tenet of the medical profession that separation of children from their families causes trauma for the child and can cause permanent psychological and physical damage. The effects can be catastrophic. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that separating children from their parents contradicts everything that pediatricians stand for, that is, protecting and promoting the health of children.4
Maintaining the unity and health of the family unit is universally recognized as critical to the well-being of individuals and society at large. Worldwide, family unity is accepted as a basic right, and policies of separating children from their parents cause intense international concern and opposition.5 In the U.S., all states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes requiring that the child’s best interests be considered whenever certain decisions are made regarding a child’s custody, placement, or other critical life issues.6
Many organizations, including the American Bar Association, have voiced concerns and opposition to any government policy that forcibly separates minor children from their parents when families cross the southern border into the United States.
Policies that indiscriminately or needlessly may have the effect of destroying family unity are detrimental to the best interests of the child, inconsistent with state law, and inimical to overall family and societal well-being. The WBA continues to emphasize the urgent need to restore to their parents any children previously separated in the past several months, to minimize any further psychological damage. The WBA strongly opposes any reinstatement of the family separation policy by any Administration. Overall, the WBA stands ready to support and assist efforts to enhance family unity and well-being.
1 Shapiro, Leslie, and Sharma, Manas, “How Many Migrant Children are Still Separated from their Families,” Washington Post, August 30, 2018, Link accessed September 13, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/tracking-migrant-family-separation/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8d8c1727d04f.
2 Gerstein, Josh. “Judge Orders Trump Administration to Reunite Migrant Families,” Politico, June 27, 2018, Link accessed October 18, 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/trump-migrant-family-separation-judge-orders-administration-to-reunite/.
3 “ACLU: 245 separated migrant children still in U.S. custody,” Washington Post, October 19, 2018, Link accessed October 19, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/nearly-250-migrant-children-still-separated-from-parents-aclu-report-says/2018/10/18/d3fc2fd0-d222-11e8-b2d2-f397227b43f0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.136a0e511513.
4 Miller, Devon, ”AAP a leading voice against separating children, parents at border,” AAP News, June 14, 2018, Link accessed June 24, 2018, http://www.aappublications.org/news/2018/06/14/washington061418.
5 Brands, Hal, “Separating Families Was a Blunder on a Global Scale,” Bloomberg.com, June 22, 2018, Link accessed June 24, 2018: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-06-22/trump-s-separating-families-was-a-global-blunder.
6 “Determining the Best Interest of the Child,” Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS, Link accessed June 24, 2018: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/best_interest.pdf.