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Congressman Mike Thompson

Representing the 5th District of CALIFORNIA

Thompson, Faith Leaders Strongly Condemn Administration's Family Separation Policy

Jun 20, 2018
Press Release
26 sign open statement regarding negative impact on children

Washington – Today Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05) along with 25 faith leaders from around California’s Fifth Congressional District, released the following statement condemning in the strongest terms the Administration’s directive that separates children from their families at the border. Text of the statement, including signatories, is as follows:

In May, this Administration initiated a “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented families entering the United States. Under the new policy, parents are arrested and detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and separated from their children who are detained separately by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Children may be placed in facilities thousands of miles away from their parents, with no means of communication.

This policy has inflicted lasting psychological trauma on children. That is cruel and immoral. Because the causes and effects of this trauma are both well known and avoidable, they must be intentional: the Administration is actively perpetrating child abuse for the purposes of deterring entrance to the United States.

Almost without exception, undocumented children arriving in our country have already experienced traumatic events, defined by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) as a “frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.”[1] They have suffered violence, poverty or instability in their country of origin, and a treacherous journey to the U.S. border. Such experiences are considered ‘refugee trauma,’ and affect “mental and physical health long after the events have occurred.”[2] In a study of U.S. foster children, who face similar levels of trauma, Casey Family Programs found that relative to the general population, a disproportionate number of kids “had mental health disorders, including a post-traumatic stress disorder rate similar to that of U.S. war veterans.”[3]

Federal law recognizes children who arrive at the U.S. border alone require intensive care and services.[4] Extensive regulations govern how HHS must treat unaccompanied minor children,[5] and the federal government provides significant resources focused on mitigating negative responses to trauma that include “intense and ongoing emotional upset, depressive symptoms or anxiety, behavioral changes, regression or loss of previously acquired skills, attention and academic difficulties…and physical symptoms.”[6]

Previously, the federal government applied the same principles to custody of unaccompanied minors as govern the U.S. foster care system – whenever possible, children should be with their parents or other kin, so long as it is safe; foster placements should be temporary and high quality; and institutional settings should be a placement of last resort.

The evidence to support these principles is not controversial. It served as the basis for the aptly named Family First Prevention and Services Act, the most significant overhaul of our foster care system in decades, passed into law in February of this year. In its justification for legislative action, Congress warned of the “longer-term costs that society incurs because of the developmental risks associated with child maltreatment, trauma, and family disruption,” and bipartisanly held that “the intense emotional trauma associated with entering foster care,” drives “great interest in identifying ways to promote family stability, reduce foster care entries and lengths of stay, and facilitate reunification.”[7]

There will always exist unaccompanied childhood arrivals for whom federal custody is the most appropriate placement. Yet in the case of children who’ve been rendered unaccompanied by DHS, the federal government has neglected the central tenant of its own foster care system: the best option for a child is for us to ensure that they can be safe in the guardianship of their parents. Instead, DHS has chosen to separate children who arrive at the border from their parents, no matter their age, thereby intentionally inflicting trauma and violating the principles of our nation’s child welfare system.

The effects of such policy are incontrovertible and heartbreaking. Research shows that infants and toddlers have dramatically different needs than their older counterparts; young children in periods of rapid brain development are more sensitive to caregiving than at any other point in their lives. They stand at greatest risk of adverse effect from trauma, and a substantial evidence suggests that the disruption of critical relationships has significant negative long-term impacts on social-emotional health.[8]

Though young children are especially vulnerable through family separation, no child is immune to negative consequences. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, separating children from their parents “can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child's brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress - known as toxic stress - can carry lifelong consequences.”[9]

Adding insult to injury, DHS has flooded an institutional system designed to care for unaccompanied immigrant minors old enough to travel to the border alone with younger children carried to this country by their parents. In separating children from their families and placing them in institutional settings, this Administration has compounded a foundation of trauma to manufacture a worst-case scenario that precipitates harmful, lasting and even dangerous results.

Moreover, this Administration’s policy of separating undocumented minors from their parents undermines the government’s ability to care for children whose only option is federal custody. Recent reports indicate that more than half of “the 550 children currently in custody at U.S. border stations had spent more than 72 hours there, the time limit for immigrants of any age to be held in the government's temporary facilities."[10] Border facilities fall far short of federally mandated standards for shelters.[11] The denial of basic care to incoming children because shelters are filled to capacity with minors who should be with their parents is a disgusting perversion of immigration law.

Add the uncertainty of whether parents deported subsequent to their incarceration will be sent home with their children, and what results is a horrific interpretation of federal policy that runs counter to our most sacred American values.

The Administration’s cruel family separation policy has intentionally inflicted trauma on children of all ages. This policy stands in diametric opposition to our nation’s child welfare policy, which prioritizes keeping families together whenever it is safe to do so. In addition, this policy is putting undue pressure on our nation’s integral system to assist unaccompanied minors. “Zero tolerance” is a violation of human rights and dignity, and it must end. 


Mike Thompson



Muhammad Anwar    

American Muslim Society of Napa

Napa, CA


Father Eliseo Avendaño

St Joan of Arc Catholic Church

Yountville, CA


Rev. Christopher Bell

Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Santa Rosa, CA


Rev. Lynda Hyland Burris     

Napa Covenant Presbyterian Church

Napa, CA


Rev. Dr. Blake E. Busick

Pastor, First United Methodist Church

Santa Rosa, CA


Fouad Atef Elkadi      

American Muslim Society of Napa

Napa, CA


Pastor Dale L. Flowers

First Presbyterian Church

Santa Rosa, CA


Pastor Bill Francis

Morello Hills Christian

Martinez, CA


Rev. Gordon Kalil, ret.

St. Helena Catholic Church

St. Helena, CA

St. Johns the Baptist Catholic Church

Napa, CA


Rev. Kevin Goss

Sonoma Valley Church of the Nazarene

Sonoma, CA


Rev. David J. Hamilton

Napa Valley Lutheran Church

Napa, CA


Rev. Anne Hoffmann

First Congregational United Church of Christ

Santa Rosa, CA


David L. Hoffman

Chair, Interfaith Council of Sonoma County

Sonoma, CA


Pastor Chadwick King

Promise Center Church

Santa Rosa, CA


Father Ismael Mora

St. Johns the Baptist Catholic Church

Napa, CA


Rev. Lee Neish

Napa Methodist Church

Napa, CA


Rev. Dr Steve Nesheim

Kelseyville, CA


Father Angelito Peries, Pastor

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church

Calistoga, CA


Rev. Dr. Dante Quick

Friendship Missionary Baptist Church

Vallejo, CA


Rev. Dr. Curran Reichert

First Congregational Church Sonoma, United Church of Christ

Sonoma, CA


Pastor Terry Riley

Creekside Open Bible Church

Martinez, CA


Pastor Ryan S. Rindels

First Baptist Church of Sonoma

Sonoma, CA


Deborah Smith

Warden, St John's Episcopal Church

Lakeport, CA


Pastor Wendy Komori Stager

Community Presbyterian Church

Vallejo, CA


Rev. Julie Webb

Napa Valley Lutheran Church

Napa, CA






Congressman Mike Thompson is proud to represent California’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all or part of Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Thompson is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and chairs the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force as well as the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Wine Caucus.


[1] Peterson, S. (March 23, 2018).  “About Child Trauma.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/about-child-trauma

[2] Peterson, S. (May 25, 2018). “Refugee Trauma.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/refugee-trauma

[3] Pecora, P. J., et al. (March 14, 2005). Improving Family Foster Care: Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study. Casey Family Programs. www.casey.org/media/AlumniStudies_NW_Report_FR.pdf

[4] Flores v. Reno lays out basic requirements; additional legislation set in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008.

[5] “Children Entering the United States Unaccompanied.” Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care, www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/children-entering-the-united-states-unaccompanied

[6] Peterson, S. (March 23, 2018).  “About Child Trauma.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/about-child-trauma

[7]H. Rep. 114-628, vol. 1, (2016)

[8]Melmed, M. (May 30, 2018). Letter to Sec. Kristjen M. Neilsen.

[9]American Academy of Pediatrics (2018). AAP Statement Opposing Separation of Children and Parents at the Border. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/StatementOpposingSeparationofChildrenandParents.aspx

[10]Ainsley, J. and Kube, C. (June 5, 2018). “Hundreds of Migrant Kids Separated from Parents Are Stuck at Border Stations.” NBCNews.com. www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/hundreds-migrant-kids-separated-parents-are-stuck-border-stations-n878696

[11] Linton, J. M. et al. (May 13, 2017). “Detention of Immigrant Children” Council On Community Pediatrics.