Statement by Jennifer Jones, director of the Change in Mind institute at the Alliance

On Aug. 7, 2019, Homeland Security Officials executed what has been called the largest immigration raid in history at one of seven agricultural processing plants in Canton, Mississippi, taking close to 700 workers. Children came home from the first day of school to find their parents had been arrested, leaving state child welfare officials struggling with what to do.  According to The New York Times, as of late last week, state officials were still unsure what happened to many of the children and who had them in custody.  

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security put no plan in place to appropriately address the needs of the children whose parents were arrested. According to NBC News, an ICE official said, “We are a law enforcement agency, not a social services agency,” adding that advance notice to child welfare or schools could have tipped off workers. This is yet another indication from the federal government that there is a lack of understanding and concern for the trauma caused to children of undocumented parents who come to the U.S.  

The fear, stress, and uncertainty that children and their families affected by these raids are living under will have significant lifelong impact. We know from the research that prolonged toxic and stressful environments can change brain architecture in young children, and can often lead to many negative physical and behavioral health outcomes. According to Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “Sudden, forcible separation of children from their parents is deeply traumatic for both the child and the parent. This triggers a massive biological stress response inside the child, which remains activated until the parent returns and provides comfort.” Parents are vital to the lives of children, and supportive, caring, nurturing relationships can help mitigate the negative outcomes associated with adversity. 

In a statement from Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, she noted: “We must put the well-being of children at the center of policies and actions in this country. Our children are our future, and they trust us as adults to make caring for them our highest priority. That’s why it is exceptionally dispiriting that immigration enforcement operations separating children from their working parents in Mississippi this week neglected the well-being of those children and their families.”

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities calls on this administration and state and local officials in Mississippi to take immediate action to appropriately locate every child who has been left parentless due to the recent raids, and to follow child welfare laws and regulations to ensure their safety and well-being until they can be rightfully returned to the custody of their parents. This includes providing access to a safe place to live, trauma-informed mental and other health services, and continued access to their schools.  

These recent actions by the federal government continue a troubling pattern of neglecting the best interests of children, and instead causing harm and long-term suffering. We would never allow another government to treat U.S. children in this way. We call on Congress to hold hearings on these raids and their impact on children. Furthermore, we ask that Congress use its oversight authority to ensure ICE is working with trauma and child welfare experts to develop their processes. 

For more information, contact the Change in Mind institute.