Resist: What Steps Can We Take Against Family Separation and Child Detention?

I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility, both in my philosophical research and personally. As so often happens, these two threads are coming together through a political crisis that feels crushing – the ongoing violence and abuses against migrants committed by the US government at the southern border of the United States.

While the crisis is ongoing and not new, I refer now to the strategy of family separation currently used by the Trump Administration as part of its zero-tolerance policy (announced in April 2018). I live in Florida, just a few hours north of a major site of child detention: Homestead. The irony of that name makes me shudder. I am thinking about this situation ceaselessly and am so ashamed, as a Floridian, parent, and citizen. I’ve been struggling with what to do, and I know many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances are, too. For readers familiar with what’s going on, please feel free to skip my overview of the situation. This post first lays out my understanding of the crisis, which is now being widely reported, and then goes on to list concrete steps you can take to work against family separation and child detention.

While we can’t do everything, and helplessness feels warranted, please know that each of us can do something – even if we don’t have money or much time. I’ve felt that helplessness in recent weeks but was able to make connections in my state that made me realize that resistance *is* happening. Also, in researching potential steps, I was reminded that it is important not to linger over guilt about not doing something that is outside one’s capacity. Use that energy to instead take steps that are within the realm of possibility for you.

Overview: Family Separation and Child Detention

In practice, Trump’s zero-tolerance policy means that migrant families, including asylum seekers, are immediately separated upon being met with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP): adults are imprisoned, processed for criminal prosecution and children are detained separately. Children have been “lost” and permanently separated through Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. Further, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are attempting raids and attempting to work with local law enforcement in new ways to deport migrants living in the US, leaving families broken. Meanwhile, Trump and administration officials blame existing law, or even the Obama administration, for the separations, eliding their own responsibility for the new, zero-tolerance approach. The approach is explicitly meant as a deterrent; for example, in March 2017, former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that family separation is a “tough deterrent”. The administration appeals to a law that has been on the books since 1952, the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which makes crossing without documentation punishable. The decision to prosecute under this law prior to asylum requests and systematically belongs to the Trump Administration. A further deep irony is Trump’s claim that he halted inherited family separation through an executive order; but, he was merely stopping, in name only, violent actions of his own. He is using separated families as a bargaining chip to demand Democrats heel to new immigration legislation and money for a wall.

While previous administrations did, at times, separate families, the zero-tolerance approach is – again – new and has resulted in many thousands of children detained alone as well as systematic and immediate family separation. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that 2,342 children were separated from parents and adult family members between May 5 and June 9 alone. Meanwhile, in previous cases when families sought asylum, e.g. under the George W. Bush administration, they were held in family detention centers together awaiting hearings with immigration judges. I do not support detention of families in these centers in any case, but the systematic separation of extremely young children, including infants and toddlers, from adults caring for them is an egregious human rights abuse layered on top of the already violent situation at the US border. Under Trump, the number of children separated has skyrocketed (see this US Department of Health and Human Services report, January 2019). Further, widespread detention of children has resulted in cruel, substandard care, medical neglect, sexual assault, and death for children, with no end apparently in sight. Donations to these children are refused by CBP. And, children have been lost, fostered by US families who have no information about the children’s families of origin. Families face permanent loss of children to adoption, tantamount to government-sponsored kidnapping. This is ogre politics in the guise of “handling” a crisis at the border; yet, the crisis upon arrival at the US is manufactured by us in the name of this fix.

The United States is built on violence, racism, and white supremacy. In many ways this ogre politics is no aberration for us, although it is horrendous, and should certainly not be a surprise. As a dear friend put it, however – let’s be the ones to interrupt it. Let’s do all we can.


So, how can we powerfully reject this situation and helpfully respond to it? First, thoughtfully shape your reactions. The #EndCarceralFeminism Twitter account lays out key questions to start: “What resources exist so I can better educate myself? 2. Who’s already doing work around this injustice? 3. Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them? 4. How can I be constructive?” (tweet, May 26th, 2018).

The links throughout this post are a good place to start educating yourself about the situation and who’s already doing work on the issue. Look locally for people collaborating to resist and think pragmatically. What is the best use of your particular resources? Is ICE active near you? Are your local governments cooperating with them? Many cities are refusing to cooperate. Find out what’s happening near you.

Many people around the country are witnessing and sharing information about what’s going on at detention centers along the border. They are also providing some material comfort to migrants prior to detention. In Florida, this includes a Circle of Protection in Miramar and witnesses in Homestead. In Miramar, people are passing out sunscreen, ballcaps, snacks, and water to migrants waiting in line in the hot sun for hours at the ICE facility; they are also providing some First Aid supplies. They have an Amazon wishlist you can use to help supply the Circle.

Witnesses at the Homestead facility are taking note of the activity there and gathering information that would be otherwise unknown; they are also protesting during shift change. (If you are in Florida and would like to Witness at Homestead, please fill out this form so that organizers can anticipate your arrival).

Below are the four best lists I have found that curate opportunities to help. Look them over, and if you can, pick one step to take today. A few highlights: some steps will take mere moments, like sharing information about the upcoming vigil on July 12. You can also review helpful information about interacting with ICE so that you are prepared if you encounter them. If you are an immigrant, know your rights! If you have the means, consider donating unused frequent flier miles so that lawyers working pro bono on behalf of migrants and migrant families can fly to help or to court appearances. You can also make direct donations to organizations like RAICES.

Yopp! “What You Can Do to Close the Camps” (June 22, 2019)

Yes Magazine, “20 Ways You Can Help Immigrants Now” (June 25, 2019)

Lawyers for Good Government, “What Can You Do to Help Immigrants Whose Rights are Under Attack?” (June 21, 2019)

Kara Hurvitz, “How Concerned Americans Can Help Counter Immigration Crises: An Evergreen Primer” at (June 24, 2019) – accessing link requires account

[Edited to add this fabulous Google Doc with very comprehensive information from legislative advocacy to boycotting; it summarizes available media and reports.]

We can resist. Let’s do this.

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