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Keeping Families Together This Holiday Season

Call for Immediate Change in Immigration Enforcement Policies and Practices

The Women’s Refugee Commission stands in solidarity with the more than 5,000 children who have written letters to President Obama and Congress asking them to end immigration enforcement practices that separate children from their parents. Current policy makes it difficult—or impossible—for detained immigrant parents to make decisions about their children’s well-being, and many of these children are put into the overburdened foster care system.

Beginning Thursday, representatives of the We Belong Together coalition, which is sponsoring the children’s letter-writing campaign called “A Wish for the Holidays,” will deliver the letters to key immigration policymakers. As a Wish for the Holidays sponsor, the Women’s Refugee Commission applauds the bravery and dedication of these children, many of whom have experienced the loss of a parent or loved one as a result of immigration enforcement.

Last December, the Women’s Refugee Commission released Torn Apart by Immigration Enforcement: Parental Rights and Immigration Detention, the first comprehensive study to look at what happens when immigrant parents and their children simultaneously become involved with the immigration and child welfare systems. What we found was heartbreaking: When a parent is detained or deported, the child is often placed into the child welfare system, and sometimes even adopted. In other cases, the child ends up in informal care situations with friends or relatives and loses a permanent relationship with the parent—and the financial, emotional and physical security that this provides.

“When parents are deported, it undercuts normal parent-child relationships and child development,” said Emily Butera, senior program officer for detention and asylum at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Children whose parents are detained or deported are forced to grow up too quickly. Many become caretakers for their younger siblings. Others are separated from brothers and sisters and placed with foster families who they do not know. These separations have long-term effects on children’s well-being.”

A study published this November by the Applied Research Center sheds more light on the scope of family separations. The study found that at least 5,100 children are currently in the child welfare system because their parents were detained or deported and that 15,000 more children are expected to enter the system in the next five years unless changes are made to immigration enforcement policies. 

Recently, President Obama acknowledged that children are being unjustly separated from their parents as a result of immigration enforcement. In speaking to representatives of the Spanish language press, the President called the separation of children from their parents a “real problem” and told reporters, “If parents are deported, they have to have access to their children.” He went on to say that the Administration has to “be sure that children are not snatched from their parents without due process and that there is a possibility for parents to stay with their children.”

These are welcome words, but they must be followed by quick action so that children will not have to live with the fear that their parents will be taken away from them this holiday season—or ever. The children who are sending a message to Washington this week understand the urgency of the situation. The Women’s Refugee Commission joins them in calling for immigration policies that protect children and keep families together.

For more information, contact:
English: Emily Butera at (202) 492-4451 or
Spanish: Michelle Brané at (646) 717-7191 or