Mobile Menu - OpenMobile Menu - Closed

Rep. Bass Leads House Democrats on Letter Opposing Trump Administration Plan to Use Foster Care as Immigration Deterrent

March 9, 2017
Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) sent a letter signed by 80 Members of the House of Representatives to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in strong opposition to his flippant remarks regarding newly proposed immigration policy that would take custody of immigrant children and then place them in foster care. On Thursday afternoon, Rep. Bass was joined by six of the signatories and many child welfare advocates outside the U.S. Capitol to discuss the letter and to condemn Secretary Kelly’s remarks.

“Our child welfare system is designed to protect children from abusive and neglectful parents. The system should never be used as a deterrent or a punishment for anyone, whether they are Americans or not,” said Rep. Bass. “To consider using the threat of detainment of a child as a deterrent to parents outside of our borders is not only irresponsible and inadequate but immoral and inhumane. Not only does this policy purposefully disassemble the family unit, but it also overloads an already past-capacity foster care system, exacerbating consequences already experienced by foster youth nationwide.” 

“As a psychologist and as somebody who has seen the pain of child immigrants in detention up close, I know how traumatic this callous plan to separate children from their parents is. Not only will it place an impossible – and unnecessary - burden on our child welfare system, it is also bad policy. Traumatizing children here in the hopes of teaching a lesson to somebody else’s parents thousands away is senseless and cruel and I urge Secretary Kelly to abandon this policy and return us to our standing as a moral country,” Said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)

“The Secretary of Homeland Security clearly seems out of touch with our country’s immigration priorities and the challenges facing the already stretched resources of the foster care system.” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) stated. “We need to be clear, the foster care system is designed to protect children—not allow them to be used as a tool to punish or attack immigrants trying to come to this country.  Immigrant children are especially vulnerable and these situations require extra consideration and care. Secretary Kelly should reconsider the priorities of his agency and not move forward with this harmful immigration policy.”

“The people that actually do these acts are less than human because they should have to come up and apologize for their own actions,” Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX) said. “America is a country that has freedom of religion. And to be probed about your religion is probably one of the highest public secular sins that we can have."

"It is unconscionable that the Trump Administration is using our overburdened and under-resourced child welfare system as a means of punishment for immigrant families,” said Jim Langevin (D-RI). “Not only does this demonstrate an utter lack of awareness and understanding of the challenges already facing foster youth in this country, it is quite simply inhumane and must be reversed for the health and wellbeing of these families.”

 “As a former pro-bono attorney representing foster children, I know that they are more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as U.S. war veterans. Immigrant children do not need the added trauma of being placed in foster care after leaving violence from their home countries and migrating through harsh conditions. This proposal is simply wrong and not who we are as Americans,” said Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA). 

You can read the entire letter here or below.

For pictures of the press conference, click here


March 8, 2017

The Honorable John F. Kelly
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Kelly,

We write as Democratic Members of Congress to express our deep concerns and opposition to an immigration enforcement proposal you discussed in a recent media interview where you outlined a plan to separate families and put children into the U.S. foster care system. 

Specifically, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday, you stated that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering separating immigrant children from their parents as a way to deter immigrants from unlawful entry into the United States. Blitzer pointedly asked you: “If you get some young kids who manage to sneak into the United States with their parents, are Department of Homeland Security personnel going to separate the children from their moms and dads?” You replied: “Yes, I am considering, in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network, I am considering exactly that.” You then went on to say that the Department would “turn them over to HHS, and they do a very, very good job of either putting them in kind of foster care or linking them up with parents or family members in the United States.”

As Members of Congress dedicated to working to improve the state of child welfare in America, this raises, not only serious ethical and humanitarian questions, but also concerns about overwhelming an already overburdened, underfunded and struggling system. In addition, it is seriously troubling that parents could be prosecuted for human trafficking if they facilitate the unlawful entry of their minor children into the United States, as outlined in the recent DHS enforcement memorandum. 

The utilization of unsound policy that calls for the separation of parents and children when they are detained as a deterrent to illegal immigration unwittingly conveys the department’s clear lack of understanding of the child welfare system. The entire purpose of the child welfare system, specifically the use of foster care, is to protect children from abuse and neglect – not as a tool for punishing or criminalizing parents. Moreover, history plainly demonstrates that DHS is ill-equipped to care for children, let alone the special needs of vulnerable immigrant children.  

We ask that you reconsider the implementation of this harmful immigration policy which will only serve to further traumatize families, overwhelm our child welfare system and roll back years of humanitarian progress. We also ask that you avoid pursuing an immigration policy intended to punish parents and criminalize vulnerable families seeking refuge in the United States. Our nation’s principles of humanity rooted in the preservation and protection of family units demands no less.


Members of Congress