An Open Letter from Concerned Social Workers

This open letter from social workers will be posted publicly and sent to federal elected officials and agency heads, calling on them to end immigration policies and practices that we know to be harmful to children and families.

If you are a social worker and wish to sign on to this letter, please provide your name, institutional affiliation, and email address (for verification purposes only, will not be posted or shared).

If you are a social worker in training and wish to sign on to this letter, please provide your name, institutional affiliation and degree candidacy (e.g., MSW Candidate), and email address (for verification purposes only, will not be posted or shared).

The deadline for including your name on the letter is 11:59 pm PST on Monday, June 25, 2018.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

We, the undersigned, are social work practitioners, educators, and scholars, and experts in child and family well-being, health, and mental health. We unequivocally oppose the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants who cross the U.S./Mexico border without documentation. Our professional code of ethics demands that we stand up against both the separation of parents and children and the practice of family detention. As social workers, we call for an immediate halt to these actions that hurt children and families.

WE CALL ON YOU TO ACT IMMEDIATELY TO REUNIFY FAMILIES TORN APART BY IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY.

As a profession, we “recognize the central importance of human relationships.”1 More than 2,300 migrant children have been separated from their parents since Attorney General Sessions introduced his “zero tolerance” directive in April. Children face multiple consequences from the trauma of separation from their primary caregivers, including emotional issues, safety concerns, and diminished overall well-being. The June 20th, 2018 Executive Order that ends the separation of children from their parents in detention does not address the reunification of families that have been torn apart or remediation of the great damage that has been wrought. Families must be reunified and provided with support to mitigate the harm that has been done.

WE CALL ON YOU TO END FAMILY DETENTION PRACTICES AND IMPLEMENT ALTERNATIVES.

Immigration detention has been proven to traumatize vulnerable populations, jeopardize the basic health and safety of those detained, and undermine meaningful access to legal counsel in remote facilities. As social workers, we are bound to “advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs.”1 The Executive Order calls for the indefinite detention of immigrant families throughout the course of criminal and immigration proceedings, which will result in the imprisonment of families for months and years as their cases slowly make their way through our backlogged immigration court system. No child, under any circumstances, should be traumatized and jailed because their family is seeking safety. Decades of developmental science definitively shows that family detention will impair children’s physical, cognitive, and emotional development. The impact will last a life time. To prevent such harm, we call on you to rely on alternatives to detention that include family case management to ensure compliance with immigration check-ins while providing community-based support to families.

WE CALL ON YOU TO RESPECT THE LEGAL RIGHT TO SEEK ASYLUM.

As social workers, “we respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person” 1 – every person, including those who come to our country as refugees. Parents who cross the border seeking protection for themselves and their children deserve due process. The criminal prosecution of families who cross the border seeking asylum due to often life-threatening circumstances is unlawful and violates our domestic and international obligations to refugees.

WE CALL ON YOU TO ENSURE THAT THE CONFIDENTIAL HEALTH INFORMATION OF IMMIGRANT CHILDREN IS PROTECTED.

Social work case files and other confidential records (e.g., medical records) must not be used to prejudice a child’s case. This is a violation of our code of ethics and the principle of informed consent. Children, in particular those who are young, traumatized, and speak limited English, have limited capacity to understand the implications of sharing information with professionals, and their limited understanding must not be exploited to their detriment.

SEPARATING CHILDREN FROM THEIR PARENTS AND KEEPING FAMILIES IN DETENTION FOR MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES CONTRADICTS EVERYTHING WE AS SOCIAL WORKERS STAND FOR, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION.

These practices—combined with the absence of a coherent, functional, and efficient plan for reunification--directly violate the six social work values of dignity and worth of the person, social justice, integrity, service, competence, and the importance of human relationships, all of which are imbued in our code of ethics.

WE REFUSE TO BE COMPLICIT AND WE WILL NOT REST UNTIL THE GREAT DAMAGE DONE TO CHILDREN AND FAMILIES HAS BEGUN TO BE AMELIORATED.

We, the undersigned, oppose the implementation of immigration policies that restrict legal immigration, limit and/or prohibit asylum, and harm children. We implore you to end family detention practices and replace them with humane forms of processing families seeking shelter and asylum at the U.S. border. We urge you to adopt a common sense interpretation of the mandatory detention statute, and allow less restrictive forms of custody for parents of minor children, such as electronic monitoring. We urge you to implement alternatives to detention, including the family case management program, that have been proven to be effective.

Most immediately, we demand that the over 2300 children who were separated from their parents be reunited and released with their parents, pending court hearings, and offered services in an effort to heal the unjustifiable abuse they have endured at the hands of the U.S. government.

Sincerely,
Concerned Social Workers*

* All signatures represent opinions of the individual, not necessarily their affiliated institution

Initial Signatory List:

Emily Bosk, MSW, PhD
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Megan Finno-Velasquez, MSW, PhD
New Mexico State University

Abigail Ross, MSW, MPH, PhD
Fordham University

Tova Walsh, MSW, PhD
University of Wisconsin-Madison



1 NASW Code of Ethics:
https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics/Code-of-Ethics-English
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