Interfaith Toolkit to End Family Incarceration & Separation

and Keep Families Together

June-August 2018


As of Tuesday, July 24, over 1000 children ages 5-17 are reportedly yet to be reunited with their parents. The court deadline for reunification of all separated children remains July 26, 2018. As of July 23, the government told the court that at least 463 parents of separated children had already been deported without their children, 879 families had been reunited, and another 538 parents had been cleared for reunification and were awaiting transportation.

By mid-August, reunifications continue at a very slow pace. The latest border-crossing numbers prove that the administration’s zero tolerance policy did not act as a deterrence. Reports show that families and children were the primary targets of the administration’s zero tolerance policy families (the bulk of prosecutions were families). There continue to widespread reports of abuses in custody. It’s now confirmed that a child passed away after being released from Dilley due to a lack of appropriate medical care in custody. A steering committee was established to advise the government on the administration’s plan to reunify families. The administration’s plan focused on putting the choices parents have in two categories: either their child is removed and returned to them in country, or they sign away their rights to reunification. Many of these children have their own claims to protections, and many parents were removed from the U.S. under false pretenses.

Background & Step-by-Step State of Play Below

Background: Faith communities strongly oppose the administration’s policy of criminally prosecuting parents and forcibly separating them from their children at the U.S. border. As communities of faith, we call on the administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to immediately terminate its family separation and “zero tolerance” prosecution policies that rip families apart and prevent family reunification. We also affirm that asylum seekers have the legal right to seek protection from persecution and violence under U.S. and international law and should not be detained for seeking refuge.


The administration’s new and unprecedented policy of systematically removing children, including infants and toddlers, from their parents is cruel and wrong. We reject increasing barriers to protection for asylum seekers and unaccompanied children, which impede our moral and legal obligations to offer protection to vulnerable populations. We reject raising the burden of proof for survivors of domestic violence or gang violence to access the asylum system. This change - announced by Attorney General Sessions earlier this month - undermines the progress we have made strengthening access to the asylum system.

On Wednesday, June 20th, President Trump signed an Executive Order pertaining to family separation. The order mandates that immigrant families be held in family detention. Instead of terminating the administration’s cruel “zero tolerance” policies targeting vulnerable families, this order undermines real solutions to family separation while continuing to violate the rights of refugees seeking legal asylum. In addition, family separation will persist, as any assigned jail time must be served in Department of Justice (DOJ) custody away from their children. Family detention is not a solution to family separation. CWS’s statement decrying the order is here.

On Thursday, June 21st, the House of Representatives rejected H.R.4760, the Securing America’s Future Act, an anti-immigrant, anti-family bill that would have dismantled family-based immigration, expanded detention and deportation, and gutted asylum protections. On Wednesday, June 27th, the House rejected H.R.6136, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, another anti-immigrant, anti-family bill that would have done nothing to stop family separation. Instead, it would have tied dreamer protections with harmful immigration enforcement provisions, curtailed protections for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, expanded detention of minors, and further militarized our borders. The House is considering a narrower proposal that could be voted on mid-July. Meanwhile the Senate is considering its own anti-immigrant, anti-family bills that do nothing to stop family separation.

On June 26th, a federal court ordered family reunification for thousands of parents and children torn apart by the family separation policy. All children must be reunited within 30 days; children under five within 14 days; and all parents must be able to speak with their children within 10 days. The court also prohibited any deportation of parents without their children, absent a knowing waiver. In the future, no child can be separated unless it is genuinely in the child’s best interest, such as a showing of a parent as abusive. On July 6th, the administration requested an extension for family reunification. More information about the court case can be found here.

On July 12th, the administration said it has reunited 57 children under 5 that it forcibly separated from their parents. The deadline to reunify all the children under 5 was July 10. The 57 children under age 5 that DHS said it reunited with their parents represented little more than half the 103 children in that age group held in custody, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Agency officials said the other 46 couldn't be reunited with their parents for logistical reasons, including deportations of some parents. The ACLU asked the court to require DHS to reunify the dozen deported parents with their children within seven days of their obtaining travel documents, and to pay for mental health counseling for children who suffered trauma. HHS remained silent Thursday on the precise number of children of all ages who have been separated from their parents, though last week HHS Secretary Alex Azar estimated them to number nearly 3,000.You can read ACLU’s statement here.

On July 16th, a federal judge has temporarily blocked the administration from deporting parents and children that it forcibly separated, over concerns that the government would quickly deport, without oversight or due process, the separated families. The judge issued the stay on deportations until at least July 23 and pending further briefing. More information is here:

Congress does not need to pass legislation to solve the child welfare crisis at the border. So long as the administration chooses to prosecute 100% of parents, their children will still be taken away. This practice is traumatizing and diametrically opposed to our faith traditions. For more information and ways to take action, please click here. Take action today to decry family detention and the family separation that persists!

(Please note that on Thursday, June 21st, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official announced that they're "suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) said the story is not accurate: “There has been no change to the Department’s zero tolerance policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border.”) Regardless of what happens, the administration’s goal is to cruelly detain and deport families. The alternative to family separation cannot be family incarceration. For more information on state of play, please visit: 

As of July 18th, only 58 children recently torn from their families at the border have been reunited. The administration has until the court-ordered deadline of July 26th to return 2,551 separated children ages 5-17 to their parents, but it will likely miss that deadline. The flowchart being used by DHS and HHS to determine whether to reunite children with their parents falls far short of what the family reunification process should entail (see KIND’s recent recommendations).

At this moment, the administration is still holding thousands of children in detention, where they don’t know where their parents are and don’t know when they will see their parents again. As reported by the New York Times, some children locked in detention facilities are forced to clean bathrooms and perform manual labor, all while being told not to cry or hug their siblings.

On a bright note, a federal judge yesterday temporarily blocked the Trump administration from deporting parents and children that it forcibly separated (see the ACLU’s statement for more details). This is an important victory, particularly as administration officials told senators today in a closed briefing that at least 180 parents have been deported without being reunited with their children. The court-ordered halt to deportations is just the latest example of the Trump administration’s cruel policies against children failing to stand up in federal court.

In other news, DHS is now instructing officers who interview asylum seekers and evaluate refugee applications to immediately reject claims based on fear of gang and domestic violence. This means that many of the families who would have otherwise been separated while they pursue their asylum claims will instead be immediately deported to extremely dangerous conditions.

As of Tuesday, July 24, over 1000 children ages 5-17 are reportedly yet to be reunited with their parents. The court deadline for reunification of all separated children remains July 26, 2018. As of July 23, the government told the court that at least 463 parents of separated children had already been deported without their children, 879 families had been reunited, and another 538 parents had been cleared for reunification and were awaiting transportation.

Top Eight Ways for Faith Communities to Take Action

(1) Call Members of Congress: Tell Congress to Stop Separating Families & Protect Family Unity

Call 1-866-940-2439 three times to be connected to your 2 Senators and 1 Representative (or click here). Here's an example of what to say: 

"I'm your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and [as a person of faith], I urge you to do everything in your power to end “zero-tolerance” criminal prosecution. This causes family separation, and it must end now. Call on the administration to immediately reunify families already separated and not turn to family detention. Family incarceration is not a solution to family separation and still violates the sanctity of true family unity. I urge you to reduce funding for immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization, and reject legislation or funding that expands family incarceration. Invest in and direct the administration to utilize community-based alternatives to detention such as the Family Case Management Program. Congress should act to bring families together, not keep them apart.”

(2) Plan a Neighbor-to-Neighbor Visit to Your In-District Member Offices: Your Members of Congress will be home from June 30th - July 8th - an important time to share the importance of protecting family unity. Establishing and nurturing relationships with your Senators and Representatives are crucial to enacting immigration policies that protect and affirm the rights of all people, and also to stopping proposals that would exacerbate family separation. Every Senator and Representative has an office – often multiple offices – in their home state. Use our Neighbor to Neighbor Toolkit to request meetings and put together a team. Here are some guidelines:

(3) Join July 26th #FamiliesBelongTogether Mobilization & Continue Mobilizations and Symbolic Actions Across the Country through Press Conferences, Actions, and Vigils

Plan to join the next #FamiliesBelongTogether massive mobilization in DC on Thursday, July 26th -- the court-ordered deadline by which the Trump administration must return all children it separated to their parents. More details will be shared as the date nears. There are also grassroots actions throughout the U.S. planned for Saturday, July 28th.

Continued mobilizations including actions at strategic locations, such as at ICE, CBP, or local Representatives and Senators offices are important for sustained opposition to family separation, as well as family incarceration. It is critical our policy makers understand that family incarceration or family detention is NOT a solution to family separation and still violates the sanctity of true family unity.

Hosting events like interfaith vigils provide the opportunity for faith leaders to express how welcoming immigrants is part of all faith traditions, reflecting on the deep scriptural and spiritual roots of our work to support immigrants. Even small events, multiplied across the country, will send a powerful message to the Trump administration and Congress that upholding family unity and welcoming immigrants is moral issue that is important to people of faith and conscience. Click here to learn more about how to host an interfaith vigil.

Main to organize actions in July and August to keep the public pressure on the administration to fix the problem it created. Actions should echo our collective demands that the administration immediately reunify families, end family detention, and end the zero tolerance policy that created this crisis. The #FamiliesBelongTogether Playdate Protest Action Guide prepared by Hand in Hand’s #SanctuaryHomes campaign includes guidance on how to plan family playdate actions at ICE offices. also has a grassroots guide for planning local actions.

Check out this recent faith leader press conferences in Seattle:

Faith communities have also chosen to use the symbolic action of highlighting their faith tradition by recalling the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus fleeing to Egypt. Congregations have put up a iconic statues of this Holy Family with fencing around them in front of their house of worship. You can see the Washington Post story of Christ Cathedral in Indianapolis illustrating the detention of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) and partners created to connect volunteers to opportunities and resources. The site has a national volunteer opportunities guide, a page on national volunteer programs and other/local initiatives, basic legal information, and a calendar of trainings.

(4) Amplify on Social Media: Don’t forget to share the same message with your Senators & Representatives on social media! Click here for a digital media toolkit with sample social media posts and graphics. Use the hashtag #FamiliesBelongTogether #KeepFamiliesTogether and #ValueOurFamilies.

Here’s a sample post: Everyone knows that taking children away from their parents is wrong. #FamiliesBelongTogether and should never be separated. Trump and Congress have the power to stop the separation of families. Tell them to #EndFamilySeparation #KeepFamiliesTogether and to #ValueOurFamilies.

(5) Write Opinion Editorials for Local Media Outlets: Click here for a template op-ed. Publishing opinion editorials (op-eds) around Fourth of July is a great way to get the attention of your Members of Congress. But first, you need to write a piece that tells your story – not just the facts:

(6) Sign the Petition: Click here to sign the faith statement against family separation led by Bishop Minerva Carcaño, official spokesperson for the United Methodist Council of Bishops on the issue of immigration on the Groundswell Platform.

Disciples of Christ Petition can be found here.

(7) Flights for Families: The Families Belong Together coalition is raising funds to support reunification efforts. This is a great way to directly support families that have been separated by the administration. Please help spread the word! More details can be found in the Flight for Families Toolkit and Donation Page.

Flights for families is a grassroots fundraising effort to raise money to fund travel costs, from flights to hotels and necessary personal items like soap and toothbrushes. Every cent will go to these travel costs for families, to support volunteers who are traveling with them for safety, or to commissary accounts that allow families who are still separated to call each other. If there is anything left after all of that, it will be donated to the Families Belong Together campaign, which is fighting to reunify families and end family separation.

Here’s how you can help:

Sample Social Media:




You can also donate to your denomination or faith traditions that can direct resources to congregations doing the work on the ground to support families who are being separated and legal assistance for the children. Supporting our advocacy work is also more important than ever. You can donate to Church World Service, or you donate directly to organizations leading this work on the ground and nationally:

(8) Volunteer with local organizations. Sacred Heart Church, NETA, ProBAR, and the Texas Civil Rights Project are just some of the organizations you can help if you are in TX or willing to travel there. Please refer to the Families Belong Together Guide on How to Help for more details.

Contact a local Catholic Charities affiliate to learn about their material/volunteer needs, consider fostering an unaccompanied child, or join the Share the Journey global solidarity campaign with migrants and refugees.

For lawyers and organizations needing lawyers: If you are a lawyer, please join more than 1,000 lawyers who have signed up to volunteer to do legal work for immigrants separated from their children here. If you are an organization needing volunteer lawyers, please email Traci Feit Love, President and Executive Director at Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), at

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the policy change that is causing family separation?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is instituting a new “zero tolerance” policy and is choosing to prosecute asylum seekers and immigrants who are crossing the border at and between ports of entry -- despite the fact that seeking asylum complies with U.S. and international law. AG Sessions has also issued a new rule that individuals who faced domestic violence and gang violence would not qualify for asylum, another immoral decision inconsistent with court rulings. As a result, asylum seekers and other families are not being given the opportunity to apply seek protection, but rather are being turned away - leaving hundreds of families stranded with no place to turn.

In addition, DHS CBP is separating families at the border at and in between points of entry - even if they are seeking asylum at ports of entry. The lead plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against the separate detention of parents and children is a Congolese woman who entered the U.S. legally with an asylum claim and was separated from her child for months. Furthermore, reports indicate that some asylum seekers are being turned away at official border checkpoints and physically blocked from setting foot on US soil, which would give them the legal right to pursue an asylum claim.

How many children are being separated?

This past month, Reuters found that more than 1,800 children were taken from their parents from October 2016 to February 2018. Under the Trump administration, their zero-tolerance policy has ramped up family separations at the border and other ports of entry. According to the Washington Post, from May 21 through June 5, there were 415 separations. The reckless nature of the policy is having psychological and heart-wrenching effects on families, particularly young children while the number of children forcibly seized from their parents continues to grow.

What happens to the children?

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries (i.e., not from Canada or Mexico) are processed by DHS’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) and then referred to the care and custody of another agency (Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement) that is the best position to offer safety in the best interests in the child. Children in ORR custody may be placed with family relative or other sponsor, placed in community-based residential care, or other secure facilities, while the children’s case is adjudicated before a judge. Although the family separation policy is relatively new and therefore many of the deportation cases are still in process, reports from the Texas Monthly, and others indicate that some parents have been deported while their children remain in the United States.

What happens to the parents?

Parents are being transferred from DHS CBP or Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Department of Justice (DOJ) custody to be criminally prosecuted for migration related offenses. Parents have been sentenced in mass trials without an opportunity to know where their children are or if they will have an opportunity to see them again before being removed from the United States. Because these parents are usually sentenced to time-served within weeks, they are quickly returned to DHS custody – adult immigration detention – for expedited removal, unless there is a claim for asylum. If there is an asylum claim, the parent may remain in long-term adult detention, separated from children. If deported, they will likely be barred from re-entering the United States for several years.

Can the parents be reunited with their children?

Parents are supposed to be reunited with their children before they are removed from the United States, but right now, it appears the administration is NOT ensuring the parent has this opportunity. Multiple reports over the last month describe parents in despair after their children are abruptly taken by DHS, sometimes using deception, and with little to no information on the whereabouts of children, how to communicate with them, and with no plan for family reunification. The only apparent path for children to reunite with their parents is to voluntarily return to their country of origin and abandon their asylum claims or other opportunities for immigration relief.

As the Executive Director of Tahirih Justice Center, direct service provider, recently described:

"Sometimes they will tell the parent, “We’re taking your child away.” And when the parent asks, “When will we get them back?” they say, “We can’t tell you that.” Sometimes the officers will say, “because you’re going to be prosecuted” or “because you’re not welcome in this country” or “because we’re separating them,” without giving them a clear justification. In other cases, we see no communication that the parent knows that their child is to be taken away. Instead, the officers say, “I’m going to take your child to get bathed.” That’s one we see again and again. “Your child needs to come with me for a bath.” The child goes off, and in a half an hour, twenty minutes, the parent inquires, “Where is my five-year-old?” “Where’s my seven-year-old?” “This is a long bath.” And they say, “You won’t be seeing your child again.”

How can I take action?

The most important immediate steps you can take is to get educated, advocate with your legislators, engage with social media and traditional media, and mobilize or participate in a local action in your region.

Where can I go to take action?

The most strategic locations will be local ICE offices, CBP / Border Patrol offices, your local Representatives and/or Senators office, and or other central federal buildings or ICE or CBP detention centers. Consider talking to local legal service providers to attend mass trials to show witness and support if they are in your region. There could be planned actions in border regions and/or in Washington, DC in the future. The Families Belong Together coalition recently launched a national mobilization for June 30th.

Where not to take action?

ORR holding facilities are not the problem agency, as they are helping process children to have an opportunity to fight their case. Targeting for direct action would be more strategically placed on ICE offices, Border Patrol offices, ICE or CBP detention centers, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Where can I find some of the stories of family separation?

Here is a compilation of of news stories of the children separated from their parents or caregivers. Here is the latest horrendous story of an infant taken away as his mother was breastfeeding. Here are some images taken of families facing separation at the border. You can also listen to children who have been just separated from their parents at the border. Here's a video w/ case examples.

Is legislation necessary for the administration to immediately stop separating families at the border?

No - the administration can terminate the family separation policy without congressional action. Prior to this new policy, families were not systematically separated at the border. In a small number of cases, children were taken from the adults with whom they arrived, when there were questions of potential human trafficking, danger to the child, or false claims to parentage. Because this is a policy change made by the administration, the administration is equally authorized to end the policy, as fact-checkers report from the Washington Post to the New York Times have made clear.

Does the recently proposed House bill end the family separation policy?

No. Last week, reports emerged that Speaker Ryan’s draft immigration bill would end the family separation policy. As reported last week, the leaked text of the 255 page bill contains no provision to end family separation and that claims otherwise are a “lie.” Under the proposal, Attorney General Sessions would remain free to continue his zero tolerance policy which results in family separation.  

Where can I find CWS statements against family separation and anti-family, anti-immigrant legislation?

CWS Strongly Opposes Family Separation & Urges Congress to Protect Family Unity

CWS Statement Opposing Border Security and Immigration Reform Act

CWS Statement Opposing H.R.4760, the Securing America’s Future Act

Trump Executive Order Fails to End Persecution of Immigrant and Refugee Families

Why is family detention and family separation a false choice? Why is family detention not a solution to family separation?

Women’s Refugee Commission and numerous others have long documented the harm of family detention, even for short periods of time. Reports like Locking Up Family Values and Locking Up Family Values, Again (written in collaboration with LIRS) documented the trauma and harm of family detention. Since family detention was widely expanded in 2014, numerous Members of Congress and Senators have opposed the practice, as has the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) own Advisory Committee on Family Residential Centers. Administrative complaints documented sexual assault in family detention centers, as well as the traumatic impact of family detention and the absence of meaningful mental health and medical care.

Will there be a litigation strategy?

Attorney General of Washington state, Bob Ferguson, announced that Washington will join a coalition of nearly a dozen states in filing a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant children from their parents during border crossings in between ports of entry. The other states that are joining with Washington in the lawsuit are Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.

Faith Statements

A compilation of faith statements condemning family separation is available here.

Faith Leaders Decry Family Separation 

Interfaith Immigration Coalition Opposes House Immigration Bills 6-19-18

USCCB, A Statement from Daniel Cardinal DiNardo 

United Church of Christ 

Church World Service

United Methodist Church 

Christian Reformed Church of North America

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) 

Faith Opinion Editorials and Media Coverage

Time Magazine: Rev. John McCullough, CEO of Church World Service

Red Letter Christians, Kelsey Hebert, Christian Reformed Church of North America 

NPR: Faith leaders Oppose Trump’s Immigration Policy

MSNBC: Bishop Michael Curry, Episcopal Church/ Rev. William Barber III, Poor People’s Campaign 

Washington Post: Catholic bishops call Trump’s asylum rules ‘immoral,’ with one suggesting ‘canonical penalties’ for those involved 



United Methodist Church Slams Family Separations, Calls Trump Policy "Antithetical to the Teachings of Christ 

Jesuit Conference, Kino, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, 11 Jesuit law schools: 

Additional Resources from Partners

For more resources, please click here.

Rapid Response Guide for Muslim, Arab, South Asian Orgs/Advocates: End Family Separation Policy


CAP: Trump’s Family Incarceration Policy Threatens Healthy Child Development 

Women’s Refugee Commission & KIND: Family Separation at the Border

Women’s Refugee Commission: Five Actions You Can Take to Help End Family Separation and Support Families 

The Flores Settlement & Family Separation at the Border

Women’s Refugee Commission on Family Detention 


Stories of family separation compiled by the Immigration Hub

Dos and don’ts” on messaging prepared by Berlin Rosen

Penn State University Law School 

Justice for our Neighbors 

Families Belong Together Coalition

Kids in Need of Defense

Medical Professionals Agree: family separation at the border can be detrimental to the future health and well-being of a child. The following medical and child welfare experts have expressed opposition to Trump’s policy: Physicians for Human Rights, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, National Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, American Medical Association, and Child Trauma Research Program.

10 Reasons Why Congress Must Defund ICE

UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) 

Human Rights First: The Trump Administration is Putting Up a "No Vacancy" Sign 

“Zero Tolerance” Cruelty: Separating Families at our Southern Border 

Immigration 101: Why is the Trump Administration Separating Immigrant Families And Detaining Immigrant Children?

House Republicans’ Immigration Bills Would Hurt Women and Children

What's Happening to Families at the Border 101

Fact-Checking Family Separation

Immigration Court Appearances Rates

American Academy of Pediatrics: Detention of Immigrant Children

AAP Statement Opposing Family Separation

Former U.S. Attorneys have called on the administration to terminate Sessions’ zero tolerance policy:

Non-restrictive, community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs): 

Family Case Management Program: For more information about the Family Case Management Program, please visit:

Letter Signed by 350 Organizations Opposing H.R.6136, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018:

Letter Signed by 200 Organizations Opposing H.R.4760, Securing America's Future Act: 

ACLU: The Tried-And-True Alternatives to Detaining Immigrant Families 

America’s Voice: Compilation of Reasons Family Detention is Harmful 

UCC Litany on Family Separation

A Litany for Families Being Separated at Our Border

and Those Entangled in the Violence

For the past and violence sown

that made land unlivable,

societies unstable and

economies unsustainable,

may we confess and repair:

The exploitation of people and extraction of resources by force,

by violence and by ecological destruction,

We confess:

Creator have mercy and unite us in justice and repair.

For the trade policies and privatization of resources

that “legalized” the displacement of indigenous people

and brought ruin to farmers and communities,

especially in Latin America,

We confess:

Jesus have mercy and unite us in justice and repair.

For military violence in sovereign nations

and the manipulation of governments,

guerilla groups and whatever else served the U.S. Nation State

at the expense of the peace and security of our neighbors,

We confess:

Spirit have mercy and unite us in justice and repair.

For the present suffering

and the assault on the Image of God

and humanity of every person,

may we repent and rise up:

For the children suffering the trauma of separation,

who will struggle with attachment and trauma

for their whole lives because of their inhuman detainment;

Creator have mercy,

may we repent and rise up.

For the parents and adults

who have died by suicide, who are contemplating suicide,

who are being killed by medical negligence,

who will suffer with trauma and PTSD

because of the inhumanity of family separation and the denial of legal asylum claims, whose bodies manifest the anxiety of being detained and isolated,

having nowhere to turn and no one to help,

Jesus have mercy,

may we repent and rise up.

For LQBTQ persons who are not being adequately recognized,

cared for or protected,

and for the mother whose breasts grow hard and painful with milk

because her nursing child was ripped from her arms,

Spirit have mercy,

may we repent and rise up.

For the systems we have built and maintain that make violence more efficient

let us make a stand, risk our own bodies and disrupt

in the name of Justice and Love.

Toward the politicians and law makers

who make lies and propagate racism and fear

and their colleagues who are too cowardly to stand up for justice and truth, 

let us make a stand, risk our own bodies and disrupt

in the name of Justice and Love.

Toward the media propagating polemic oversimplifications

and diminishing the stories and humanity of people

or who are using power for profit and distraction

rather than truth and transparency,

let us make a stand, risk our own bodies and disrupt

in the name of Justice and Love.

Toward the business leaders who are profiting on violence, racism, incarceration

and the unlawful detention and separation of families

by building detention centers and bidding on government contracts

tied to this inhumanity and violence,

let us make a stand, risk our own bodies and disrupt

in the name of Justice and Love.

Toward the ICE officers physically detaining people

and using their hands and bodies to separate families,

who destroy their own soul and humanity

while diminishing the humanity of others by their work and actions,

let us make a stand, risk our own bodies and disrupt

in the name of Justice and Love.

For the future, which will only be full of life and justice

if we are bold and courageous enough

to demand and make it together now,

go with us Holy Spirit in the strong name of Jesus.


Written by the Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Minister of Congregational and Community Engagement, Justice and Local Church Ministries

Copyright 2018, Justice and Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH  44115-1100.  Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education.  All publishing rights reserved.  

Disciples of Christ Resources:

Link to “Family Separations:  A word to the Church” national sign on letter from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ):

here for regularly updated resources from Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries about how you can:

Read reflections here from Rev. Terri Hord Owens on the Biblical emphasis on love in Romans 13.

Rev. Terri Hord Owens, Disciples GMP and other faith leaders, speak. 6/7/18

Read Rev. Terri Hord Owens’ statement and a national press release with testimonies from other speakers, or listen to the audio recording from a Press Call Honoring Immigrant Moms, and Protecting Immigrant Families. 5/9/18

Disciples of Christ has a border ministry near McAllen, TX., called Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries.  They are donating space at their Bayview campus and helping with coordination for church groups coming down to be part of peaceful protests, accompanying immigrants requesting asylum, and seeking access to detention centers—including for the 6/28 protest planned in Brownsville, TX.


The Vera Institute of Justice launches Phase One of the Immigrant Connection Project

Are you working with a parent who was separated from a child upon detention?


The Unaccompanied Children Program of the Vera Institute of Justice is launching Phase One of our Immigrant Connection Project (ICON) to help parents and children who were separated upon apprehension by immigration authorities to begin to reestablish contact and assess their legal options as a family.

Vera’s network of legal service providers provides detailed legal screenings for every child in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Nevertheless, the separation of families and the great difficulty in locating parents have raised unprecedented challenges for our network’s ability to assess children’s legal options. Through ICON, Vera will serve as a clearinghouse for parents and their advocates looking for children who were separated and detained apart from each other. Vera will connect parents with the legal service providers working with their children, thus enabling families to work together to make decisions about their rights and their future.

The Immigrant Connection Project (ICON) of the Vera Institute of Justice now has a free line for parents in immigration detention


The details about how to reach ICON to request a search for a child’s legal service provider are attached and pasted below. Please share with anyone who may have contact with parents who were separated from their children and would like to be connected to the legal organization working with their child.



(abajo en Español)

Immigrant Connection Project


Were you separated from your child after crossing the border? Are you working with a parent who was separated from a child?


The Immigration Connection Project (ICON), a project of the Vera Institute of Justice and New America, may be able to help connect you with the organization providing legal services to the child.


How can ICON help to locate the legal organization working with the child?


You can contact ICON in one of the following ways:


  1. Call toll free number: (800) 845-8372
  2. NEW: From ICE Detention, use the free calling system in your detention facility and dial 621#
  3. Email:


Please include as much of the following information as you have: Parent’s full name, A number, and point of contact (if detained, include location and deportation officer); Child’s full name, date of birth, country of origin, A number; and approximate date of separation.


ICON will collect information about the parent and child and search for a match. If ICON identifies a match, we will contact the legal organization we believe to be working with the child so that organization can establish contact, and we will share that organization’s contact information. If we do not identify a match, we will continue to search as we update our data.

July 26th: The Vera Institute of Justice and New America announce a new way to reach the Immigrant Connection Project (ICON)

ICON connects parents and their advocates with the legal service organizations working with children who were separated from family members at the border. We are opening lines of communication so that parents in the United States and abroad can reach the appropriate legal service providers working with their children. Parents and their advocates can now reach us for free via Facebook messenger from abroad, by toll free telephone from inside the United States or from immigration detention, or via email from anywhere. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for parents to locate the legal organization working with their child.

Connecting with the child’s legal service provider can protect children’s rights and ensure that families can make fully informed decisions about their immigration options. These connections are critical for all families who were separated, including parents who have been deported without their child, parents who have already reunified with their child, and parents still separated from their child in the United States. Parents may have information related to the child’s case that the child does not have, and it is important for the legal service providers to have all relevant information in determining eligibility for relief. Where appropriate, the legal organizations can provide detailed information about the child’s legal options, which may be distinct from the parent’s options, enabling families to join together to make fully informed decisions about their rights and their future.


Proyecto de Conexión de Inmigrantes


¿Fue separado de su hijo luego de entrar a los EEUU? ¿Trabaja con un padre que fue separado de su hijo?


Es posible que el Proyecto de Conexión de Inmigrantes (ICON), un proyecto del Vera Institute of Justice y New America, le pueda ayudar a conectar con la organización que provee servicios legales al niño.


¿Cómo puede ICON ayudar a localizar la organización legal que trabaja con el niño?


Puede comunicarse con ICON a través de los siguientes métodos:


  1. Teléfono: Llame al número gratuito: (800) 845-8372
  2. NUEVO: Si está llamando desde un centro de detención de inmigración, utilice el sistema de llamadas gratis y marque 621#
  3. Correo Electrónico:


Por favor incluya la mayor cantidad posible de la siguiente información: Del padre (o madre): nombres y apellidos, número-A, contacto (si está detenido, incluya el lugar de detención y oficial de deportación); Del niño: nombres y apellidos, número-A, país de origen; y fecha aproximada de separación.


ICON recopilará información sobre el padre y su hijo, e intentará una búsqueda. Si ICON encuentra al niño, nos comunicaremos con la organización legal que creemos está trabajando con el niño para que esta pueda establecer contacto, y le compartiremos la información de esa organización. Si no encontramos al niño en nuestro sistema, seguiremos buscando cada que actualicemos nuestra información.


How will it work: We will collect your information, search for a match, and contact you with the result of our search. We will address all requests as soon as possible, but responses may not be immediate while we put our systems in place.

When we identify a parent-child match, we will inform the legal service provider working with the child that his or her parent has been identified and is looking for him or her. The legal service provider will then reach out to the parent or representative to establish contact. In some instances, Vera will be able to provide the parent or parent’s advocate with the name and contact information of the legal service provider. If no match is made, Vera will retain the information and run regular checks to see if a match can be made at a later time.

Vera will not share any information about the child’s location or other personal information. Our network of legal service providers will work with the children to confirm that a match has been made and then initiate communication with the parent. Vera does not have the ability to effectuate direct contact between separated parents and children – all separated parents should continue to work through the Office of Refugee Resettlement processes to directly communicate and reunify with their children.


Coming Soon: We will launch a webform to collect this information, so matches can be made as quickly and efficiently as possible. We also hope that submission of the webform (or a phone call through the hotline) will assist parents seeking additional legal services (e.g., representation, assistance with bond hearing, assistance in paying for a bond that has been granted, etc.)


Cautionary note: ICON is a work in progress that Vera is launching in phases to begin effectuating communication between parents and the legal service providers working with children as soon as possible. We will formalize our process in the coming days and weeks. Our network of legal service providers who will respond to inquiries about children will work hard to connect with the parents as quickly as possible, but their resources are limited as they continue to provide services to a high volume of children coming into ORR custody while taking on this additional work. Your patience and feedback are very welcome. Please contact Shayna Kessler (, (917) 828-1753) with questions about the project.


Additional Resource: if you are working with a child who is looking for a parent from whom he or she was separated, RAICES’s new program to locate the parents of separated children may be able to help. Please click here for their intake form.

SURJ Program to Match Sponsors with People Seeking Bond or Parole

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is running a sponsor recruitment program to recruit, vet, and match U.S. citizen sponsors with folks in detention who are (or might be) eligible for release. This program first emerged out of a need identified by organizers of the refugee caravan this spring, and SURJ has expanded the program to include folks detained by ICE/CBP who were not part of the caravan. You can see the sponsor sign-up form here: If you know of folks currently in detention who have passed a CFI or who you believe have a good chance of passing an upcoming CFI *and* who need a sponsor to house them for up to the next six months as they await an asylum or other court hearing, please complete this form:

The Women’s Refugee Commission and Innovation Law Lab Launch Collaborative Database to Track Family Separations.


As has become clear over the past week, ensuring the reunification of families is going to require a cooperative effort by civil society organizations both in the US and in the region. Please consider contributing to this effort through one of the two channels below:


1) The Women's Refugee Commission and Innovation Law Lab Collaborative Database


Why? There is a recognized need to collect and organize family separation data in a centralized way, both to support litigation efforts and to assess and push back on harmful trends and practices


How? Collaborators can submit limited data points into a simple, secure, and confidential database. We can help, if you have concerns about capacity.


Outcome? WRC and ILL will create and regularly share anonymized, aggregated data with collaborators on family separations for use in policy advocacy and to facilitate reunifications.


Where requested and consented to, we can also help ensure that specific cases are flagged for the ACLU and/or other groups for the purpose of assisting individual families.


You will need to sign up to use the WRC-ILL database and agree to our privacy and database terms of use policies. For more information and to obtain a login, please email:


(Pls. note that if entering data in the WRC-ILL database is not possible, we can arrange to accept information in other secure forms and input the data. Email to make arrangements.)


2) Intake Process for Removed Parents


We are also trying to collect data to specifically identify and help reunify children with parents who have been removed.


We recognize that a database is not always the easiest way for those working in the region to gather and share information. Furthermore, the WRC-ILL database is currently missing some fields that will more expressly include and capture data from separated parents who were deported without their children.


We are working on adding these fields. In the meantime, the attached intake form (English and Spanish) can be used to collect key information that can help removed parents connect to legal resources and other needed assistance.


Certain questions, highlighted in yellow, are particular to the ACLU lawsuit. But we welcome additional information about other circumstances of separation and return.


At the end of the form are specific consents to share information with the ACLU and/or with WRC, if there is interest in doing so. If you are helping a parent complete the form, please make sure you record their consent as desired.


Completed forms may be sent to, or uploaded to a Dropbox account. (Dropbox information is included in the form and should not require you to create an account.)


We will let you know when the database is ready to directly receive information about parents who have been removed.


If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Leah Chavla at or to me.