Here’s How You Can Help Migrant Children
Whether responding to reports about the treatment of migrant children in government custody or children separated from their parents at the border, many generous Americans have come forward, wanting to help. Below are some ways that you can become involved.
What is the Current Situation for Migrant Children?
The Trump administration irreparably harmed families and children by separating children and their parents by force. Those families separated under Trump are suffering hunger and homelessness, even as the Biden administration falters in helping those directly affected. WRC has been on the front lines of reunification, working with a handful of organizations to find and reunify families through the Ms. L case and capturing the stories of separated families in a joint oral history project with Barnard College. The Biden administration has taken some important steps to undo the policies and harm imposed by the Trump administration, such as ending the use of Title 42 for unaccompanied minors—which, under Trump, returned over 16,000 children traveling alone to harm. It also created a government task force to reunite families, directly reuniting more than 500 children with their families.
Even as the Biden administration has taken some critical steps to restore protections for families and children, policies designed to discourage migrants from seeking assistance persist:
- Continuing to apply the Trump administration’s Title 42 policy to expel people seeking asylum, including returning families with infants and toddlers to Mexico in the middle of the night. The high level of danger in Mexican northern border cities has forced many families to make the heartbreaking decision to send their children across the border alone to safety.
- Failing to deliver adequate and timely support, as well as restitution, to the children and parents who were forcibly separated under the Trump-era zero-tolerance policy.
- Warehousing unaccompanied children in large-scale facilities that are not licensed by child welfare authorities.
- Dramatically increasing surveillance-based monitoring rather than evidence-based best practices for alternatives to detention.
Many migrants arriving at our southern border are fleeing horrific violence and are in search of refuge for their families, and any of us would do the same. Evidence shows that cruelty-based border policies are ineffective, do not stop migration, and perpetuate family separation.
We must preserve our asylum system and defend laws, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act [TVPRA] and the Flores Settlement Agreement, which protect the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in our nation. We should use proven alternatives to detention, which are more cost effective, efficient, and humane ways to process asylum seekers. We should uphold existing refugee laws by ensuring that people seeking safety can request asylum and other protection anywhere along the US border, including at ports of entry. We should cease limiting access to asylum through policies like Title 42 that force children and families into dangerous conditions in Mexico. We should guarantee that children who do end up in immigration detention are cared for by child welfare workers, not Border Patrol agents in forbidding uniforms. We can and must invest in smart, comprehensive, and humane solutions to the reality that children and families are fleeing war, climate disaster, domestic and gang violence, and other crises and seeking protection at our border.
Make a Donation
Your donations to the Women’s Refugee Commission support the Migrant Rights and Justice program, which has been fighting on behalf of migrant children for many years. We work to hold the government accountable and to ensure that refugee children and families are treated humanely and fairly. We travel around the country monitoring and inspecting detention centers and border enforcement policies. We work with litigators and service providers to expose and halt mistreatment. We work to reunify separated families and empower them by connecting them to resources. And we work with Congress and policymakers to preserve and strengthen human and civil rights for migrants. Your donations help ensure that families and children have the best possible chance at justice and safety.
Speak out and educate the people around you
A sustainable approach to dignified welcome for families fleeing persecution should be the way forward. This is not a question of funding for US Customs and Border Protection, or a need for more detention capacity. This is not an asylum crisis. It is a political and moral crisis that punishes and marginalizes innocent children and families seeking safety to score political points. Providing humane treatment to refugee children is a basic American value. Speak out on social media and educate the people closest to you on the facts.
Call your government representatives
Call your local, state, and/or national representatives to let them know that this is a humanitarian issue. Find your federal senators and representatives to send a message. Key messages include:
- Protect children’s rights. Do not eliminate any existing protections for immigrant children and families. Protections are not loopholes.
- Give children the chance to tell their experiences and evaluate their claims to see if they qualify as refugees.
- Establish high standards for the humane treatment of children (and families) in US Customs and Border Protection custody.
- The current situation at the border is a crisis of leadership, not a crisis of insufficient resources.
- Prevent the government from redirecting any additional emergency funds to other enforcement purposes.
The government facilities that hold unaccompanied children are generally not allowed to accept donated goods. However, private migrant shelters need supplies. Consider sending donations like books, clothing, stuffed animals, story time, and art projects to a local shelter near you.
Support migrant children and families in your community
As families and children are released and reunited with family or sponsors, they enter communities around the country. They have undergone long journeys and find themselves in strange new environments. Offer support, friendship, and encouragement. Show them they are welcome here. Schools, churches, and community centers are good places to start. Keep an eye out for new students in your child’s school or new players on the soccer team. Offer assistance and support.
Most of the children coming to the US have family members in this country who can care for them. However, many families are afraid to come forward. In the meantime, shelters and foster families are a critical need for some children. If you are interested in being a foster family for some of the very young children or pregnant girls who are arriving, the best advice is to begin the process to become licensed foster parents. This is run through your local child welfare organization and is required by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. For more details, see this page of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s website, and at the two organizations that generally manage foster care for unaccompanied minors: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
If You Know a Refugee Who Has Been Detained
For legal assistance for detained people seeking asylum, contact the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) hotline or American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). To contact UNCHR from outside a detention center, dial 1-888-272-1913; to contact UNHCR from inside a detention center, dial 566#. To contact AILA, see details on their webpage.
Learn more information about the US government’s Family Reunification Taskforce.
View a list of these phone numbers and more information on family separations.
Ways to support adults (who are also often parents):
- Visit immigrants in detention centers in your area. Not all detention centers are at the border. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has hundreds of detention centers all over the country. You are allowed to visit detention centers. Many areas have visitation programs, so you can volunteer to be a visitor and provide moral support for immigrants in detention. Check this list to see if your city or state has such a program.
- Volunteer with local service providers in your area to accompany immigrants to immigration court and ICE check-in appointments: Some organizations coordinate accompaniment to court or ICE check-in appointments. Others need interpreters or people to babysit children while they interview parents. There is not one national organization overseeing these local efforts. Look around in your area.
Call your local government to see if they have set up a task force, especially in areas that have a large immigrant population. New York, for example, has several small non-profits that are directly helping these children.