June 8, 2018

An open letter from the University of Washington School of Social Work Leadership Team and the Faculty Council regarding the federal policy of separating immigrant families at U.S. border crossings

The enduring and often lifelong health and mental health consequences of traumatic parent-child separation have been established by decades of child welfare research, led by some of the nation’s top social work scholars and health scientists. Much of this research has been funded through the National Institutes of Health and its National Institute of Mental Health, spurred by the humanitarian ethos that defines the highest purposes of our democracy. 

During the past several months, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expanded the enforcement of our national immigration policy, including prosecuting all individuals crossing over our nation’s Southwestern border and referring all adults to the Department of Justice for adjudication. The result is that border enforcement officials are forcibly separating children from their parents, who are then arrested and incarcerated for suspected unlawful entry into the country.

These children are turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for an indefinite and typically prolonged period in nonparental custodial care—often in homes of complete strangers. This dire new national policy brings with it a range of extraordinarily detrimental consequences that will most likely be borne by the children of immigrants and refugees traumatized by forced removal from their parents. 

As social workers who have a mission of serving all members of our community, we are taking a stand against this draconian policy that is a sharp departure from the nation’s previous immigration enforcement policy. That policy allowed detained parents—many of them refugees fleeing from violence in their home countries—to stay with and care for their children pending the outcome of their immigration cases.  

To ignore well-established, federally sponsored research, in favor of the dubious gains of a national policy that regards the willingness to inflict lifelong trauma on the children of immigrant families as a legitimate tool of border enforcement, is both unconscionable and a profound betrayal of the very values that define us as a nation. We believe this policy should be reversed immediately to avoid further trauma to hundreds, and potentially thousands, of innocent children and their families.

Read the statement from the National Association of Social Workers.