Transition Plan for a Leading Nation


The administration should put forward protective policies to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of children in immigrant and refugee families. One in four children was born, or has a parent who was born, in another country. Without immigration, the number of children in the U.S. would be declining. Half of U.S. children are a race other than white, non-Hispanic. Whether children in immigrant and refugee families are seeking a green card or to naturalize or are newly arrived and seeking safe haven in the U.S., they deserve access to quality healthcare, nutrition, and housing and should be treated with dignity and respect. Harmful, xenophobic rhetoric has further marginalized communities of color and led to poorer health outcomes.

End all policies that separate children from their families at the border. Children should never be separated from their parents unless a competent family court makes that determination. Families that have previously been separated should be reunited and have access to trauma-informed care and mental health supports. The administration should seek to reunify all separated children with the parents. All children and parents who have been separated should receive mental health services, at no cost to them, immediately and into the future.

End family detention. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) should rescind the Aug. 2019 Final Rule Apprehension, Processing, Care, and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children and pursue actions that are consistent with the Flores Settlement Agreement. Further, the federal government should stop defending the use of family detention in all pending court cases. Instead of detention, DHS should utilize community-based alternatives for children and their parents. Community-based case management should be implemented for children and families, thus ending both detention and the placement of electronic tracking devices on parents.

Ensure the care and safety of unaccompanied immigrant children. Unaccompanied children should never be held in non-Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) settings. The administration should immediately end the practice of keeping unaccompanied children in hotels. The administration should rescind the May 2018 Memorandum of Agreement between HHS and DHS in its entirety and ensure that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have access to children’s information to pursue enforcement actions against families or children. It must further prohibit DHS’s access to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) significant incident reports and create firewalls to limit the disclosure of children’s personal information outside of HHS except to the child’s counsel and the child advocate, absent the child’s fully informed consent.  

Protect unaccompanied children in ORR custody. The administration should increase its permanent bed capacity in smaller settings so that children are not placed in large, congregate or unlicensed, “influx” facilities. ORR should work with community health care providers to ensure continuity of medical care and children’s medical records should always be given to sponsors. The administration should expand post-release services. Every effort should be made to reunify all children in ORR custody with sponsors as quickly and as safely as possible which is especially critical for children turning 18 in ORR custody.

End current restrictive asylum policies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should withdraw its March 2020 order that has permitted DHS to expel children and families under Title 42. DHS and EOIR should rescind their June 2020 joint proposed rule that severely restricts asylum, including banning claims arising out of gender-based harm or gang violence. Further, DHS and EOIR should rescind their July 2020 proposed rule that aims to restrict asylum on public health grounds. DHS should end the Migrant Protection Protocol program and stop defending the policy in Innovation Law Lab v. Wolf. Instead, the administration should allow immigrant children and their families to come into the United States as their legitimate claims for asylum make their way through the court process. The administration should actively coordinate with transit countries and the Mexican government to provide protection and support services to unaccompanied children and families who wish to seek safe haven in the United States.

Reverse the Trump Administration’s public charge rule. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should rescind the final rule Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds. Similarly, the U.S. Department of State should rescind their interim final rule regarding ineligibility for visas based on public charge grounds. The administration should also stop defending these rules in court.

Repeal all iterations of past travel bans that target immigrants based on their personal characteristics. The administration should immediately rescind past travel and refugee bans, known as “Muslim bans”.

Conduct immigration processing in a child-friendly manner. Because conditions at Customs and Border Processing (CBP) centers are inconsistent with AAP recommendations for appropriate care and treatment of children, CBP should not subject children to these facilities. The administration should take a humanitarian approach to processing children and families at the border which means putting HHS in charge of overseeing the treatment of children and families who are newly arrived in the U.S. The processing of children and families should occur in a child-friendly manner, taking place outside current CBP processing centers and  conducted by child welfare and medical professionals, to provide conditions that emphasize the health and well-being of children and families at this critical stage of immigration proceedings. Medical screening and treatment should occur in the child or parent’s preferred language. Children who are identified as needing additional medical care should be immediately referred for evaluation and treatment.

Establish an Office of Children’s Health and Safety. The administration should establish an Office of Children’s Health and Safety within DHS whose director reports to the Secretary and whose budget and authority enable it to review and evaluate all DHS immigration policies to ensure they protect and promote children’s health and safety.

Reinstate and make permanent the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DHS should rescind its July 28, 2020 memorandum on DACA and instead make the program permanent.

Ensure that immigrant children have access to legal representation. The administration should restore and expand funding for legal services and direct representation for children, both detained and released. Unaccompanied children should have free or pro bono legal counsel with them for all appearances before an immigration judge.

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American Academy of Pediatrics