Religious Leaders Denounce Trump Administration’s Latest Attack on Immigrant Children

August 28, 2019

The United States should be doing more to protect refugee children, not actively participating in their oppression”

Washington, DC (August 21, 2019) – Religious organizations and leaders of diverse faiths are universally outraged at the Trump administration’s latest attempt to harm immigrant children: gutting the Flores settlement agreement, a legal framework that has been in place to protect migrant children for decades.

“These changes would expand the number of children who will be detained and are in direct opposition to the child-friendly provisions in the Flores agreement,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. “This rule would destroy long-term child protection standards created by our government and the courts. There is no justification to keep families and children in immigration jails longer. Separation of children from their parents is inherently wrong. The same is true for keeping children in detention. Clinical studies demonstrate that the mitigating presence of parents does not negate or lighten the serious and adverse effect of detention on the physical and mental health of children.”

“Once again, the Trump administration is using children as pawns in its attack on immigrants. The theory goes, if the U.S. government treats kids seeking asylum inhumanely, fewer will come. These children are fleeing gangs and they just want a chance to have a future. As the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, the United States should be doing more to protect refugee children, not actively participating in their oppression,” said Lawrence E. Couch, Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. 

“The Trump administration is recommending gutting the Flores agreement so that immigrant children will be held in detention centers indefinitely. This is wrong, full stop. As Jews, we are taught kavod ha’briot – that all people deserve respect and dignity. We will not remain silent while immigrants, including children, continue to be persecuted by our government,” said Sheila Katz, National Council of Jewish Women, CEO.

Added Patrick Carolan, executive director of Franciscan Action Network: “The Trump administration continues its war against migrant children and families by ordering new regulations that would allow the government to detain them indefinitely.  The Flores agreement has protected vulnerable children for 22 years. This latest attack is cruel, inhumane, and unAmerican. In my Catholic faith tradition, Jesus welcomed the children and said we would be judged on whether or not we welcomed the stranger.  The Trump administration fails this test.”

“Children and their families do not belong in prison. The Trump administration’s latest plan to keep children indefinitely imprisoned shocks the conscience. Medical evidence confirms this detention causes lifelong psychological damage and only compounds the trauma experienced by families fleeing violence and famine. Unfortunately, this policy is consistent with this Administration’s long record of abuse and cruelty. Jesus says we will be judged by how we treat those in need. It is long past time for officials in this Administration to repent for these sins,” said Laura Peralta-Schulte, Senior Government Relations Advocate, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

“By further stripping protections for migrant children and families, the Trump administration has doubled down on its strategy of deterrence through cruel and inhumane policies,” said Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach Director Scott Wright. “Ignoring the recommendations of medical professionals, thousands of comments filed against this new regulation, and the deep trauma experienced by children and families in detention, the administration has added another entry to its long list of anti-immigrant actions. Columbans will continue to live the Gospel call to welcome migrants and refugees to work toward a future when our country will not be defined by the hateful actions of those in power but by the justice, compassion and solidarity we show toward the poor and vulnerable.”

“Annulling the Flores agreement would not deter people fleeing life-threatening circumstances in their homelands. It will only have devastating consequences on the lives of children and families by keeping them in detention indefinitely. Attacking children and families in this way is an antithesis to Christ and his ways. Christians are called to protect people who are in the most vulnerable circumstances. We cannot stand by as we continue to see the impact of the administration’s cruel tactics on children that are harmed by spending any time in detention. Rather than using children to deter others from coming, the administration should create dignifying processes for those seeking refuge and opportunity,” said Sojourners Director of Campaigns and Mobilizing, Sandra Ovalle.

Kristin Kumpf, Director of Human Migration and Mobility for the American Friends Service Committee, said: “Children belong in homes and schools, not in prison. Whether the children are imprisoned alone or with their families, it is unjust and must end. Multiple deaths of children in ICE/CBP custody have made it clear that the protections for unaccompanied children are already insufficient. Terminating the Flores agreement will leave more vulnerable young people unprotected from indefinite, inhumane detention in the custody of abusive enforcement agencies. The federal government should work to end immigrant detention, not expand it indefinitely.”

Kumpf continued: “We are called by our faith to care for the vulnerable and challenged by our national values to promote the welfare of our children and to tend the common good. President Trump’s continued attempts to use the mistreatment of children to deter those seeking refuge and asylum in the United States is unconscionable. We strongly oppose the administration’s efforts to discard the Flores Settlement Agreement safeguards which protect the welfare of migrant children in U.S. government custody.”

Church World Service President and CEO Rev. John L. McCullough said: “The same administration that has half a dozen child deaths on its hands should not be allowed to detain children indefinitely or otherwise erode minimum standards of care. All children and families deserve to live together in safety. This administration has already done irreparable harm to thousands of children and families who came to our nation seeking protection. Children and families running for their lives should never be incarcerated, nor should a child be needlessly separated from their parent. As people of faith and conscience, we demand that Congress hold the administration accountable to prioritizing child welfare, rather than separating children from their parents or detaining children or families.”

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Deputy Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human RIghts explained: “The Jewish community has been holding events outside detention centers and facilities across the country, demanding that the administration #CloseTheCamps, because we see what is happening: people targeted because of their race and status held in inhumane conditions without due process. The Trump administration now wants to add ‘in indefinite detention’ to this description. We know where this leads, and so as Jews we condemn the administration’s latest move and say, ‘Never Again is Now.’”

“With this latest move, the Trump administration attempts again to go above and around the law,” added Rachel Gore Freed, Vice President and Chief Program Officer of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. “Not only is detention of children immoral but this new set of regulations continue to demonstrate the Trump administration is more concerned with political maneuvering and failed attempts at deterrence than the safety and the well-being of children in the care of the federal government. From separating families last summer to reinventing legal standards of care, we will not allow these tactics to take shape and will continue to help protect the health, safety and well-being of children.”

Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director, Leadership Conference of Women Religious stated: “Children and families should never be incarcerated. First, because detention, even for a short period, has been proven to be detrimental to a child’s development, health, and well-being. Secondly, we know that there are effective alternatives to detention, including the Family Case Management System, that are less harmful and far more cost effective. Finally, it is clear that this new rule does not serve the best interests of children. Instead, it undermines existing child protections required by the Flores Agreement.”

“It is dangerous, cruel and inhumane to keep children locked up indefinitely, especially when we know that this subjects them to trauma, sickness and unimaginable heartbreak. Children belong with their family. In the midst of a family separation crisis of its own making, and with hundreds of children still separated from their parents, the new “Flores Rule” is the latest move by this Administration to take away immigrant access to due process, dignity and safety. As a network of immigration legal service providers grounded in the United Methodist faith, we will do everything possible to lift our voice against this new regulation and to serve our most vulnerable neighbors,” stated Rob Rutland-Brown, Executive Director, National Justice for Our Neighbors. 

Said Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director, Disciples Refugee & Immigrant Ministries: “The fact that the administration has announced today a rollback of protections against vulnerable refugee families and children is in tragic synch with our memory that it was 400 years ago this week when  the first slave ship arrived into our emerging nation. Today’s efforts to nullify Flores settlement protections will certainly lead to indefinite and prolonged family detention and to erosion of important standards for the medical, housing, nutritional, and educational treatment of unaccompanied migrant children. They represent a step backwards in history, and a move toward yet a new form of ‘enslavement’ through increased detention of black and brown immigrant bodies.  Our faith, instead, calls us to move forward to offer confession, healing, and mercy for the most needy among us.”

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is made up of 53 national, faith-based organizations brought together across many theological traditions with a common call to seek just policies that lift up the God-given dignity of every individual. In partnership, we work to protect the rights, dignity, and safety of all refugees and migrants.

Contact: Lynn Tramonte | | 202-255-0551