Migrant Children: A Long-Overlooked Human Rights Crisis


Confused by the immigration debate?

Is the Trump Administration ripping kids away from their parents?

What is the real story… and what should Catholics think?

Questions related to immigration policy and Catholic moral teaching are now swirling. The Attorney General and MSNBC are quoting the Bible, the New York Times ran an editorial Sunday on the meaning of “pro-life,” and at least one Catholic Bishop has proposed denying the sacraments to immigration enforcement agents…

Wow. Okay so…

The obvious comparisons to the abortion debate are unavoidable. Where are the media on children ripped from their mothers wombs? Does the New York Times care about what it means to be “pro-life” if it doesn’t harm Trump? And what about communion not being a “prize for the perfect, but medicine for the weak?”

The height of hypocrisy was when Planned Parenthood weighed in on Father’s Day, saying “In our hearts and minds today: all of the fathers and parents who have been separated from their children at borders.”

Nobody has done more to separate children from their parents than Planned Parenthood.

So, here’s the CatholicVote take on the immigration debate, starting with some important context and facts:

    1. The southern border of the United States is a mess. Our laws are outdated, and the enforcement of these laws has been chaotic, inconsistent, and unpredictable for decades. As a result, the current system is often inhumane. Like we said, this mess didn’t start with President Trump.
    2. During the Obama administration, immigration laws were selectively enforced, sending mixed signals to those seeking to enter the U.S. The practice of “catch-and-release” created a magnet for illegal immigration, including phony claims of asylum, and even human traffickers posing as parents of smuggled children. In some cases, the Obama Administration also separated children from their parents, improperly vetted host families, and much worse. The lack of coherent enforcement worsened the humanitarian crisis, which traffickers and cartels exploited. According to even the ACLU, “the border control under Obama was monstrous.”

    3. In fact, inconsistent enforcement of our laws has created a human rights crisis, where cartels and violent smugglers known as coyotes dominate the passages to the U.S. from Central America. Drugs, labor- and sex-trafficking, murder, and death are rampant. Families who attempt the trip put themselves and their children in incredible danger. According to a recent study, as many as 80% of migrant women and girls are raped before they even reach the U.S. The goal of our immigration policies MUST prioritize fixing the border — and ending this tragic scandal.

    4. Earlier this year, the Trump Administration issued a “zero tolerance” policy in an attempt to end the chaos at the border. Part of this new policy included separating children from parents. This decision was NOT required by law, but was inevitable given the impossibility of housing children in current detention centers together with adults — along with current laws that prevent holding children longer than 20 days (Flores Settlement Decree). Therefore, the Administration had a choice: separate children from parents temporarily or, after 20 days, release the family together and hope that the parents will show up for a court hearing. They chose the former.
    5. Much of the current controversy involves those seeking asylum from violence inside a group of central American countries. Under U.S. law, those declaring asylum cannot be immediately turned away. Legal proceedings must be scheduled and migrants must either be held, or released until their court date. Knowing this,asylum claimants have been surging for years, in part because of misinformation spread by traffickers, and the perception that loopholes in the law can be exploited. This surge has made identifying and welcoming real asylum seekers even more difficult.

OUR TAKE: There are no easy answers when it comes to fixing the chaos of the border. First and foremost, we must be clear: attempts to evade U.S. law will not be tolerated, and we must de-legitimize those exploiting any uncertainty. But we must do so in a way that respects the dignity of migrants, especially children and families. CatholicVote.org DOES NOT support separating children from parents, except in extreme cases where those detained are known threats or pose risks to their children. We strongly favor changing existing law to allow children to be housed with their parents for more than 20 days. We also favor expanding the number of immigration courts so that the length of processing these claims can be reduced. 

We readily admit that there are practical difficulties in achieving these goals. How do we get serious about the border, while accommodating families with children caught in the chaos? Where can we house children with families while we work to discourage the surge in those seeking entry?

Reckless accusations of racism, unfounded tweets and pictures, and threats to withhold the sacraments are not helpful, in our opinion.

People of good will exist on both sides of this highly complex and important issue.

This is what Congress is for.

President Trump heads to Capitol Hill tomorrow afternoon.

Congress needs to get to work. Propose and debate real solutions.

And fix the mess.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author


Brian Burch is President of CatholicVote.org.


  1. Rob Schroeder on

    While it’s great that CatholicVote has made a strong statement about this subject, there still are some really concerning inaccuracies being promoted here.
    The Trump Administration’s decision to separate children from parents is not a matter of logistics or some situation where they faced an “either or” choice. We know this because this situation has already been challenged, in the courts, and we know what the government’s argument is.
    “Specifically, the Government argues that when a parent is detained for removal or criminal prosecution, the minor child becomes “unaccompanied” and must be placed in the “care and custody” of ORR. Separation of the family unit, therefore, is simply a consequence of the lawful detention of the parent.”
    https(colon)//www(dot)aclu(dot)org/sites/default/files/field_document/71_mtd_order(dot)pdf (page 15)
    How much more explicit does the Trump administration need to be? They have literally argued in federal court that separation of children is not a matter of circumstance but part of the routine of detaining adults suspected of crossing the border illegally IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, not when family housing is not available.
    Asylum claims have not been “surging for years.” This is an inaccurate talking point advanced by the Trump administration, and I don’t understand why it is being repeated here. The data is freely available online at this link: https(colon)//www(dot)justice(dot)gov/eoir/statistical-year-book. Receipts for asylum hearings are as follows:
    ’16: 65,218
    ’15: 50,619
    ’14: 55,184
    ’13: 47,534
    ’12: 48,321
    ’11: 40,525
    ’10: 40,405
    ’09: 46,549
    ’08: 48,298
    ’07: 58,053
    ’06: 54,432
    ’05: ‘52,661
    ’04: 57,532
    ’03: 67,239
    ’02: 74,712
    ’01: 45,590
    ’00: 35,639
    There may be some slight discrepancies between yearbooks as numbers are revised, it looks like. There definitely has been a recent increase in asylum claims, but to characterize this as some sort of long-term trend is simply false. Clearly there is a significant amount of variance, with dips and rises.

    • Phillip Christiansen on

      What Rob fails to note is that the ratio of affirmative (proactive) vs defensive (deportation defensive petitions) has changes. According to the most recent 2016 report “Defensive asylum receipts have increased significantly (221 percent) from FY 2012 to FY 2016.” Affirmation petitions have dropped from approx. 30,000 to 1,500.

      • Rob Schroeder on

        Yes, but the stat used by the author was total asylum requests. Second, Catholic social teaching states pretty clearly asylum seekers are due a hearing, not pre-judgement of their claims. The statistical yearbook notes that a nonzero percentage of defensive hearings result in granting of asylum. So we should protect the rights of those people, yes? Fourth, there could be environmental factors at play that we are not aware of.

  2. Brian,
    My take on it is, we have immigration laws and a procedure for entering the Country; liberals, including members of the clergy, and many Bishops, have added to the liberal outcry. If parents enter the Country illegally and are caught, they will be detained according to law. What to do with the children? it is a huge problem, and the only thing that makes our laws chaotic, is that they haven’t been consistently enforced, but they are not outdated and they haven’t changed; adding language that says children will be separated from parents, if the parents are detained is not changing the law, and zero tolerance, only adds emphasis to the laws. Liberals and many deep state Republicans, want Trump out of office in the worst way, and would rather have the Country fail, rather that see president Trump suceed. I will in no way, sign any liberal petition to reverse what the President is putting in place; if it’s wrong, it’s up to him to change it, not some mealy mouth liberal and that includes many clergy, who are only creating a wider divide in the Church, just like B O created a wider divide between the races. One of the tenants of the left’s doctrine, is to stir up trouble and make as much of it appear to be the work of the opposite position from theirs. I think it was part of Saul Alinskey’s main methods of getting things changed, so we have demonstrations, protests, and paid trouble makers, reminiscent of the union and union breakers in the formative years of worker’s unions.
    I’m not buying into the story of babies being ripped from the mother’s womb, unless we’re talking about abortion, and I think B O and H C were both big proponents of that and the left doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but the left, indluding Catholics, ignore that when they vote. Roger Tebo

  3. A well written and helpful summary from Mr. Burch!

    Two points; (1) If the laws are outdated, and as many think unjust the answer is for
    Congress to change the law via legislation. (2) until the laws are changed the executive branch
    has the sworn responsibility to uphold them.

    Certainly Christians, especially Catholics have a moral obligation to feed, cloth and house those in need, but also to petition their representatives to DO THE JOB THEY WERE ELECT TO. From my limited vantage point this has not been done legislatively in years.

    As someone who lived on the boards illegal crossing have been going on and growing at least since 1978. Things are getting worse not better and everyone stands in a circle pointing fingers and calling names. Perhaps some of our bishops will get th word out on where to send donations and also demand legislators to DO THEIR JOB .

  4. President Donald Trump MAGA! Thank you Brian for this wonderful report regarding immigration.
    This is the “best”! How can it reach every Christian sitting in and out the pews?! I now feel that my
    monthly donation is going to a great mission via Catholic Vote. The comments are the “TRUTH”! IT’S THE REAL NEWS AND NOT ALL OF THE ‘FAKE NEWS’,, AND MADE UP FACTS! Is there any opportunity for you to get this information to EWTN or Relevant radio for the ‘NONES’ AND C&E
    Christians to hear the “TRUTH”?! I hope and pray!

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