Joint statement of the Western Social Science Association (WSSA) and the Association for Borderlands Studies (ABS)

Recent reports of the treatment of children at the United States southern border are of great concern to us as scholars of the social sciences and humanities, and as just average people. Our concerns arise over the deliberate and calculated programs that separate small children from their detained parents for uncertain periods of time and in unknown locations. These terrifying separations are bound to cause lasting trauma among children, who are too young to understand borders, let alone policy.

We deplore all such instances of separation, and we urge an immediate end to the separations and the so-called “zero tolerance policy” behind them. While we appreciate the President’s decision to temporarily cease separating children from their parents, the decision as written is not a real policy change and improperly threatens family separation by invoking the 1997 Flores v. Reno settlement agreement. We call on the United States Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to end this family separation/”zero-tolerance policy” and reunite all interned and separated minor children with their parents immediately.

As scholars of the social sciences and humanities, many of us have given our careers to studying families, borders, migration, immigration policy, rule of law, and even humanity and decency. We have come to our conclusions and make our demands for the following reasons:

  • The separation policy is a cruel and crude solution to a complex problem. We support the right of countries to control their borders and enforce their laws, but the so-called “zero tolerance policy” has gone beyond the needs of security and law enforcement, and it has become an exercise in sheer cruelty. There are simply no words to describe the pain of children who experience sudden and indefinite separation from their parents.
  • The separation policy is at odds with the principles of U.S. and international justice. The separation of children from parents and parents from children is a punishment, and, as such, it is punishment before legal judgment. Nowhere in any U.S. jurisdiction is sudden and indefinite separation from caregivers a punishment prescribed for small children. Yet, under this policy, toddlers cry, languishing alone in hastily constructed and understaffed facilities. Thus, these separations are cruel and unusual punishment for children. For detained parents, the harsh conditions in which their children are placed – converted former Walmarts at best—amount to a threat against their children’s well being. As such, the separation policy is a cruel coercive measure against parents.
  • The separation policy violates due process for minors, who have a right to communication with parents. Our associations each include due process in our mission statements, and access to due process, a right of all persons, is a foundation of liberty and democracy. The denial of due process is a flagrant departure from the rule of law.
  • The separation policy rests on flawed reasoning and facts. To justify their actions, those who have implemented the policy have offered a range of misleading references to the Holocaust, the Bible, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Shifting the blame for their actions with half-truths and outright lies, authors and supporter of this policy have also offered false and misleading statements about crime and immigration, U.S. law and court decisions, and immigrants and their motives. As scholars of the social sciences and humanities, we note these fallacies and remind everyone that proper actions cannot come from flawed assumptions.
  • The separation policy contemplates no alternatives. The U.S. administration has ignored many viable solutions to the problems it claims to be addressing. As scholars of the social sciences and humanities, we note that other countries have successfully dealt with migration crises in the recent past. The administration has shown no interest in learning about them. In the end, for all its cruelty, the separation policy might be an even greater failure for its lack of pragmatism and effectiveness.
  • The separation policy is part of a wider set of policies against immigrants and immigration. Enacted in an already anti-immigrant and anti-foreign atmosphere in the U.S., the anti-family separation policy has come on the heels of many hostile statements and even a travel ban from the U.S. administration. As scholars of the social sciences and humanities, we condemn the U.S. administration’s angry rhetoric and misguided actions, which have created this hostile, anti-immigrant and anti-asylum climate and abusive state of affairs.

We close this letter with the unequivocal and firm request that the United States Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security completely end this family separation/”zero-tolerance policy” and reunite all interned and separated minor children with their parents immediately. Anything short of this is just one more injustice that immigrants and their families face.

For the WSSA:
Christopher Brown, WSSA President
Steven Mumme – WSSA EC member
Deb Andrist – WSSA President Elect
Tony Amato – former WSSA VP
Meghna Sabharwal – WSSA EC member
Moises Diaz – WSSA EC member
Bill Schaniel – WSSA EC member
Jesus Ruiz Flores – WSSA EC member

For the ABS:
Francisco Lara-Valencia, ABS President
Laurie Trautman, ABS, Board member
Cesar Fuentes, ABS, Board member
Emmanuel Brunett-Jailly, ABS President Elect
Tony Payan, ABS Board member
Lya Margarita Niño, ABS Board member
Todd Hataley, ABS Board member
Elisabeth Vallet, ABS Board member
Chiara Brambilla, ABS Board member
Jussi Laine, ABS Vice-President
Katarzyna Stoklosa, ABS Board member
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, ABS Past President