Blog Archives

Disrupting and Dismantling Immigrant Families


The Trump administration has found yet another way to torment immigrant families who are undocumented. A new surge initiative is being carried out by ICE and is supposed to result in “disrupting and dismantling” smuggling and human trafficking rings.  On the surface this sounds like something immigration advocates would welcome and embrace.  But with closer scrutiny, it becomes clear this new initiative is also geared to disrupt and dismantle immigrant families as ICE agents have been given a new priority – to arrest and detain immigrant parents who pay for their children to be brought across the US border. Instead of only targeting the profiteers – the smuggling operations, coyotes, and human trafficking rings –  ICE has orders to also go after the parents.

The young children and adolescents crossing the border are considered to be unaccompanied minors once they are detained by Customs & Border Patrol.  Most of them are fleeing Central America; they are leaving countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where they are vulnerable to gang violence and high rates of homicide. Admittedly, most often they are likely brought into the US by someone paid off by their parents – after all, it’s not like there are a whole lot of other options. Despite this, the Obama administration did the humane thing and allowed these families to reunite by releasing the children into the custody of their parents while asylum or deportation cases played out in immigration court. After all, unaccompanied minors are often traumatized and housing them with a caring parent seems like the most sensible thing to do.

However, last February a memorandum was released by DHS Secretary Kelly indicating Obama’s humane policy was about to end.  This memo, being issued to implement two of President Trump’s executive orders, included directives that raised red flags among immigration advocacy groups.  It laid out how new policies would be implemented that would target for deportation anyone who directly or indirectly facilitated the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States. Through this memo, a warning shot was fired by the new administration that disrupting and dismantling human trafficking rings wasn’t their only priority; parents who were reunified with their unaccompanied minor children as a result of the previous administration’s policies were also in the crosshairs.

Having unaccompanied minors and their parents being targeted in the above mentioned memo was so troubling that attorneys from Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) prepared a practice advisory  in order to assist legal practitioners who  represent child clients in removal proceedings and to help them advise family members of such children.  It cannot be understated how important it is for legal advocacy groups to quickly respond with effective strategies when these types of laws are put into place. While I do not represent unaccompanied minors or have any of their parents as clients, I have many colleagues who do and am fully aware of what they are experiencing as the Trump administration targets yet another cohort of immigrants they view as a priority to put into deportation proceedings.

To date, there are reports of ICE agents visiting the homes of unaccompanied minors after they are released to start deportation proceedings against their parents.  There are other reports of parents being arrested and detained by ICE as they accompany their children to scheduled ICE appointments.  As I write this, Secretary Kelly has been reassigned and no longer heads the Department of Homeland Security.  It is unknown who his predecessor will be but I long for the days when DHS was led by someone like former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson who held the position under President Obama.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Senator Gillibrand Sheds Much-Needed Light on Children of Deportees


Gillibrand speaking at a rally in New York City

It’s a well-known fact that children of deportees suffer from trauma, economic and social instability, as well as other harmful effects that are devastating and long-lasting.  With the deportation net widening  under the Trump administration, it’s highly likely even more children will be emotionally scarred due to the deportation of their parent(s). Therefore, I was pleased to see a letter had been spearheaded by N.Y. State Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, and was directed to DHS Secretary, John Kelly, and DHHS Secretary, Tom Price addressing this topic.  Gillibrand, along with 15 of her Senate-colleagues have asked them for concrete data on what in fact does happen to those children who are left behind. Also, what policies are in place both before and after they are separated from their parents only to become part of the foster care system?

Families being split up due to deportation is nothing new – even in rural parts of the country such as upstate New York. For many years now, I have seen Cornell Farmworker Program’s Director, Mary Jo Dudley, make a concerted effort to get parents to sign a  Parental Consent for Alternative Childcare Form so they can have a plan in place for their children in case they are deported.  Having this type of document prepared could potentially keep children out of the welfare system and into the hands of someone the family knows and trusts.  But then what? The Senators’ letter inquires about what types of trauma-informed services are in place to assist those children who are placed with kin families.  It makes you wonder, do they even exist?  If not, then the guardians named in the Parental Consent forms like the one above might not have the trauma-informed services they will also need to assist the children left in their care.

The following letter asks many critical questions and they deserved to be answered.  It’s important to know whether or not the system can adequately handle children of deportees and whether or not the “continuity of care” for children being separated from their parent(s) is in place or even considered.  From what I know about Senator Gillibrand, she seems to carefully choose the issues she gets behind and stays on top of them.  Therefore, I’m cautiously hopeful the children of deportees will finally get some of the attention they deserve and the services they will need to address their trauma and emotional pain.  In the meantime, the letter is quite powerful and immigration advocates should follow what happens to make sure it isn’t dismissed or brushed aside.

Dear Secretary Kelly and Secretary Price:

We write regarding the recent uptick in immigration enforcement actions across the country pursuant to President Trump’s policy directives.  We are particularly concerned about the impact of such policies on vulnerable people, including the children of deported parents.  More than 5,100 children enter the child welfare system each year because of the deportation or detention of their parents. These children are United States citizens, and the deportation of their parents leaves them vulnerable in myriad ways.

As you know, separation from a parent can cause significant negative mental health effects in children. Studies have shown that children who experience these types of traumatic events can suffer from symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, have poorer behavioral and educational outcomes, and experience higher rates of poverty and food insecurity. Abruptly separating from parents is a highly destabilizing, traumatic experience for children, and one that carries long term consequences such as feelings of loss and grief, economic hardship, and increased risk of neglect and abuse. Additionally, as parents and children are separated, more youth are entering into the child welfare system – a system that is already straining to meet the needs of the many children it serves.

We therefore seek answers to the following questions, and would be grateful for your response within 30 days:

  1. How many children have entered the child welfare system and been removed from their parents’ care as a result of their parents being deported since January 2015?
  2. Of these children, please provide data on the type of placements, i.e. foster families, kinship care, or congregate care placement. For those children placed with kin families, what types of trauma-informed supportive services are in place to ensure that these placements are stable and children can thrive?
  3. What is the estimated financial cost to taxpayers to support U.S. citizen children of deported parents while they are in foster care? Please provide all available data since January 2015, to include an aggregate number and the average cost per child per day, and the average length of stay in foster care.
  4. What procedures are in place to screen individuals who are in the process of deportation to identify whether they are parents?
  5. What is your policy when making an arrest of a parent in terms of ensuring continuity of care for minor children?
  6. What is Department of Homeland Security’s policy regarding contacting local child welfare agencies and what is your protocol when the agency detains an individual and children are in the home without a caretaker?
  7. What policies are in place to protect the children’s interests in these proceedings?
  8. What are your agencies doing to ensure that parents in deportation proceedings can meaningfully participate in resultant child welfare cases, and visit with their children?
  9. Is there a plan to increase federal funding through DHS to support local departments of social services across the country as they experience an increase in their foster care responsibility as a result of new DHS policy?

If the data requested in this letter are not available, we would like to request that your agencies start maintaining them. This information is critical for identifying children in need of support and illuminating potential unintended consequences of immigration policies.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.  We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep




What is Sanctuary?


In recent weeks, both  Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca passed Resolutions to protect undocumented immigrants from harassment and the threat of unjust deportation.  Both measures prohibit local police from enforcing immigration law, or asking someone’s immigration status unless it is relevant to an underlying crime.  They also limit collaboration between local officers and federal immigration agents.

The city of Ithaca formally declared itself a “sanctuary city” on February 1.  Tompkins County, however, doesn’t call itself a “sanctuary” jurisdiction.  Its Resolution is entitled “Public Safety for All,” and aims to “maintain a safe, inclusive government, and [the] protection, order, conduct, safety, health and well-being” of all residents.

Why the difference?  Both measures were passed in response to an Executive Order that greatly expanded the categories of people targeted for deportation.  Except for minor distinctions, both provide law enforcement officers with the same operational guidance.  Each adopted a “legal roadmap” provided by the New York Attorney General’s Office describing just how far jurisdictions could go to protect undocumented people without violating federal or state law.

While I cannot speak to the Common Council’s decision to adopt a “sanctuary” specific resolution in Ithaca, I can explain why the County avoids the word “sanctuary” because I assisted lawmaker Anna Kellis in drafting its Resolution.


“Sanctuary” means different things to different people.  Proponents are often motivated by the historical idea of sanctuary as a way to protect people from government persecution.  Opponents say that sanctuary jurisdictions cherry-pick which laws to apply, and selectively protect certain groups of people from the consequences of committing crime.  In reality, both of these interpretations miss the mark when it comes to understanding what a “sanctuary” jurisdiction does, and does not, do.

The word “sanctuary” has no legal definition, so the protection sanctuary jurisdictions provide varies from place to place.  Some jurisdictions prohibit local law enforcement officers from collaborating with federal agents to the extent permitted by law.  Other jurisdictions provide free legal services to undocumented people in deportation proceedings.  Yet others simply affirm general human rights principles or a commitment to non-discrimination, without further explaining what “sanctuary” really means.

When it came to drafting the Resolution in Tompkins County, we didn’t want the word “sanctuary” to be manipulated, or misunderstood.  We especially did not want undocumented individuals to think they would be safe from deportation proceedings initiated by federal agents.  The Resolution, for example, limits the kind of assistance that local officers will provide federal agents, but neither State nor local officials have the authority to interfere when federal agents conduct their own investigations.

It was also important to highlight how the Resolution promotes public safety for everyone.  For example, because the Resolution prohibits local officers from investigating someone’s immigration status, it encourages immigrants to call the police when they need help or have information about a crime without triggering a chain of events that could ultimately lead to deportation.  The resulting separation between local law enforcement on the one hand, and immigration enforcement on the other, protects undocumented people from harassment, but it also makes for safer communities overall because it builds trust and opens the lines of communications between immigrants and the police.

Also, “law and order” voters in Tompkins County might have opposed a “sanctuary” resolution, not knowing how our proposal actually supports local officers and economic interests.  The Tompkins County Sheriff had in fact publicly endorsed the Resolution because it made sense both legally and pragmatically, and because it was consistent with the Department’s own practice.

Local enforcement of federal immigration law is also expensive, because the federal government does not reimburse the County for time its officers spend on immigration, or the resources they use.  Moreover, because federal immigration agents operate under a more flexible set of enforcement guidelines, a County that cooperates with federal agents can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of an undocumented people.

There are plenty of good reasons for a municipality to embrace the word “sanctuary.”  A resolution adopted by the City of Ithaca in 1985 to protect refugees gave the Common Council historical support for protecting undocumented people against federal aggression this time around.  Voters in Ithaca also supported the principle of protecting undocumented people, separate and apart from any broader local interests served by the Resolution.  Tompkins County has a different history, and its residents as a whole are more politically divided.  The decision to avoid the word “sanctuary” reflected that context, in hopes that the merits of the County Resolution would carry the day, regardless of the name we gave it.

-Kathy Bergin





Our Response to the President’s Executive Order


A family from Afghanistan was scheduled to arrive in Ithaca later this month.  A family from Syria would follow.  Then another.  Every person was vetted – extensively – and granted a refugee visa to enter this country on account of the violence and persecution they faced at home.

But now they cannot come.

Last week, President Donald Trump barred Syrians from entering the United States indefinitely.  He suspended the resettlement of other refugees for 120 days, and announced a temporary ban on both nationals and refugees from a handful of predominantly Muslim countries.  The order makes a narrow exception for religious minorities, which in practice means that Christians can enter, but Muslims cannot.

Catholic Charities Tompkins/Tioga stands with our Muslim sisters and brothers, and refugees around the world, in denouncing this discriminatory order.  It does not represent who we are as a country.  It does not represent our faith.

Few in our generation have witnessed a refugee crisis of this magnitude.  In 2015 alone, Europe took in more than a million migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and other war torn countries.  Germany, Hungary and France processed a record number of asylum applications that year, while smaller countries including Sweden, Austria, Norway and Finland resettled the greatest proportion of refugees compared to their population.

Now it is our turn.

If we want to maintain a position of moral leadership, we must recognize human dignity as the birth-right of all people.  If we want to promote peace in the world, we must do our part to heal the devastating burdens of war.  If we want to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our children, we must perfect our promise to welcome the tired, the hungry and the poor.

We are a nation of immigrants where hundreds of thousands of Jews and other persecuted minorities found refuge following World War II.  Since then we’ve opened doors to refugees from Vietnam, exiles from Asia, and children who survived war crimes in South Sudan. Today we are home to people from Burma, Tibet, Columbia, Ethiopia, and countless other places.

These are the high-marks of our history.  But we must also atone for the moments in time when we bowed to scapegoating and fear.  We must honor those who lost their lives to the perils of migration while searching for a country brave enough to let them in.

Now, we must be brave.

We demand the President immediately reinstate the refugee resettlement program, and remove the ban on Syrian admissions and suspended admissions from affected countries.  We demand elected officials do everything in their power to reverse course, and to protect foreign-born people and religious minorities already in this country.  We demand compliance with judicial orders in deference to the rule of law.

The community can oppose the executive order by mailing postcards to the White House, and calling their representatives via the Capital Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

We stand with the people of this country who support immigrants and refugees.

Stand with us.

Kathleen Bergin

Community Liaison, CCTT Refugee Resettlement Program

Children in Crisis

child-from-hondurasI recently returned from the 2014 National Migration Conference, held in Washington D.C. by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  Much of its focus was on how many people are on the move right now, often migrating from their home countries to a foreign country as they flee violence, genocide, warfare, natural disasters and oppression, and specifically, how many of them on the move are children.  I am still trying to process how much of the world is in crisis and the extraordinary number of children who have already been harmed or are in harm’s way.

We learned about many dire situations throughout the world that involved children such as the child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and how that country is going to have a lost generation of males as a result.  Equally tragic, we also heard about the DRC’s high incidences of rape against its young female adolescents – a brutal form of gender-based violence.  Officials also provided updates on the aftermath of natural disasters, such as Haiti’s 2012 earthquake, and reported on how many children are struggling with PTSD, as well as trying to adapt to a life where many of them are missing one or more limbs.

The situation facing children fleeing Syria was particularly heart-rending.  Not only are they being uprooted from their home country and forced to migrate; but they are also suffering from PTSD as they adjust to their new identity as orphans.  The only beacon of light in that situation was hearing how Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are stepping up to the plate and taking them in by the hundreds of thousands with hospitality and dignity.  In fact, the Jordanian government has opened up their school system, allowing for Jordanian children to attend school in the morning and the Syrian children to attend school in the afternoon.  The attempt to normalize the lives of these traumatized children by letting them become students again is admirable.

While part of the conference placed a spotlight on the children in crisis living in the countries mentioned above the main focus was on the current crisis at our own border and the recent surge of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America.  The resounding message was the immediate need to offer these children protection; to provide them with access to legal counsel, as well as due process as they flee the violence, drug cartels, and narco gangs and migrate to the US.  As one official put it, there is a need to respond with compassion and to change the country’s discourse to the fact that these children “are refugees and not accidental tourists waiting to go to Disneyland.”

When there is a country in crisis and people are forced to migrate, the US always takes the position that neighboring countries need to open up their borders and treat anyone fleeing with dignity and compassion.  Whether it is in our hemisphere (e.g., Haitians reaching the Dominican Republic’s border) or half way around the world (Burmese refugees reaching Thailand’s border), the US has always been unwavering in these expectations.   So it is really disheartening to see this is not happening on our continent; not only in the halls of Congress, but in places such as Murrieta, California – where the images of those busses of children and their mothers being forced to turn around because of angry protesters is still etched in my brain.  Somehow our unwavering policy to treat people on the move with dignity and compassion doesn’t apply when it happens in our own sphere.

minors blog 1

When you juxtapose the Jordanians welcoming Syrian refugee children into their school systems against what you see in the photo above we should all question what has happened to our ability to show humanity and compassion.  Allowing traumatized children some normalcy in their lives by allowing them to attend school is admirable.  Forcing a busload of children in crisis to turn around or calling for the National Guard to come to the border (as Governor Rick Perry is doing) to stop other unaccompanied minors from crossing it is shameful.  If we expect countries around the world to open up their borders when there is a crisis, especially when children are involved, the US needs to do the same.  We seriously need to rethink what we are doing and ask ourselves how we have mutated into a country that would put our own selfish needs above the needs of migrant children who are in crisis.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep