Family Separation & Detention

​Federal Advocacy

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​Family Separation & Detention

Family Separation

In May 2018, the Trump administration announced a "zero tolerance" policy that resulted in the forcible separation of children and parents at the border, a practice that the administration had already been carrying out for months as a way to deter families from migrating to the United States. The AAP immediately spoke out against the policy and wrote the administration urging them to end the practice many times. The policy led to more than 3,000 children being forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border.

AAP President Colleen Kraft, MD, MBA, FAAP, and other pediatrician experts were featured frequently in the news, outlining the detrimental child health effects of family separation. Pediatricians shared how separation harms children's short- and long-term health.

In June 2018, a federal court ruled that the government must reunify all separated children and parents, and AAP issued a joint statement with UNICEF USA supporting the court's order. The judge's ruling specified that all children must be reunited with their parents within 30 days and children under five within 14 days. While many children have been reunified with their parents, many remain in the custody of HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement.

AAP continues to advocate for the reunification of these families as soon as possible, the creation of an independent medical and mental health monitoring team that can evaluate and make recommendations about the care and treatment of children in federal custody, and congressional oversight for the condition of children in federal custody as well as the immigration policies that led to thousand of children being separated and held in detention. Additionally, the AAP opposes legislative or regulatory efforts to weaken existing protections for children in federal custody.

Family Detention

AAP strongly opposes family detention as a solution for separation. The AAP's 2017 policy statement recommends that no child should be placed in detention, and that even short periods of detention can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health risks.  In addition, reports have raised troubling questions about the quality of care and treatment families are receiving in the federal government's custody.

In July 2018, AAP led several medical and mental health provider organizations in urging leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to investigate the treatment of families in detention centers. The AAP is further calling on the federal government to appoint an independent medical and mental health monitoring team to ensure that the children receive optimal medical and mental health care while in government custody. The AAP opposes legislative or regulatory efforts to weaken existing protections for children in federal custody.

Through its advocacy, the AAP continues to emphasize that alternatives to detention exist, and children fare best in community settings, under the care of parents who love them. The Academy urges that children and families should have access to legal counsel throughout the immigration pathway and that community-based case management can increase the likelihood of compliance with government requirements.

Additional Resources

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