Family Separation and Detention is a Reproductive Justice Issue

By Nicole Rapfogel, Field and Outreach Intern

Imagine this: You live in a community with so much crime, violence, and poverty that you are willing to risk everything for the chance of safety and opportunity for you and your family. You know that the president of the United States, the country where you’re going for a better life, is anti-immigrant. You know that you may encounter dangerous smugglers and criminals as you make your way north through Central America and Mexico. You’re lucky enough to survive the trek across the Mexican border and into the United States. Upon your arrival into the U.S., you are apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and your children, as young as eighteen months old, are taken away from you, terrified and confused.

This is the reality for the parents of over 2,300 children who have been separated from their families since early May.

In a rare response to public outcry against family separation, President Trump signed an executive order that ends the practice of separating families at the border. While this policy calls for ICE to detain families together, it sets no plan to reunite the thousands of families already separated. Along with their parents, the Trump administration will continue to jail children indefinitely.

Further, the Trump administration has continued its “zero tolerance policy” at the border, calling for the prosecution of all individuals who “illegally” enter the U.S. Families seeking asylum are also held in detention and have been separated. Under previous administrations, asylum seekers were released and their cases were handled in the civil court system. Long waiting times at ports of entry and family separation and detention, even when seeking entry legally, make it virtually impossible for people fleeing violence to enter the U.S. without detention and prosecution.

This is an issue of reproductive injustice. Reproductive justice centers the most marginalized people and upholds the right to parent children in safe communities. Migrants are being abused by the state and have repeatedly and historically been the subject of harmful, racist, and anti-immigrant state policies.

Many people seeking asylum are survivors of sexual violence amid the dangerous conditions in the countries they are fleeing and on their treacherous journeys to the U.S. They often lack access reproductive healthcare in their home countries. The Trump administration recently ended a previous policy in which ICE automatically released pregnant women from detention. The ACLU and other human rights organizations allege that pregnant women in detention centers do not receive adequate medical care and face unsafe conditions.

Last year, undocumented women were held in a detention center and were refused access to abortion care, despite securing funds and sponsors to travel to and from the clinic.  In the most recent cycle of horror inflicted on migrant women, a baby was taken from her mother’s arms while breastfeeding at a detention center in Texas.

The Trump administration and its supporters claim to be “pro-life” and “pro-family,” but clearly they only value certain lives and certain families. In Trump’s commitment to destroying abortion access domestically and abroad, women’s lives are inconsequential. As a proponent of the Muslim travel ban and zero tolerance policy, the nationalist, white supremacist Trump administration does not support the lives of immigrant families. The Trump administration values fetuses more than Central American woman and children seeking asylum.

Jeff Sessions implored immigrants to just “wait your turn.” Waiting is not an option. No one takes these kind of risks if they are not in desperate circumstances.

We cannot wait to make it clear that the Executive Order is not enough. We must support alternatives to detaining children and families. We must demand that children who have already been separated from their families are reunited. We need to ensure there are legal pathways to immigrating and seeking asylum – both in theory and in practice.

On Thursday, June 28, thousands of women gathered in Washington, DC to commit an act of civil disobedience in protest of family separation and detention that resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 women. We encourage everyone to join us in standing with immigrants and protesting these cruel and unjust practices. Families Belong Together protests will be happening around the country on Saturday, June 30. To spread the word about these inhumane policies and encourage others to act, use our template to write a letter to the editor in your local paper.

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