Separation of immigrant families: U-M experts can comment

June 20, 2018
Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel nbbickel@umich.edu

The Trump administration has come under fire for separating migrant families, including those seeking asylum, at the U.S.-Mexico border. Media are reporting that Trump could issue an executive order today mandating that children and families be detained together, while House Republicans push for an immigration bill that would provide relief to Dreamers and end family separation. University of Michigan experts are available to discuss this evolving issue.

Margo Schlanger, professor of law, is a leading authority on civil rights issues and served as the officer for civil rights and civil liberties in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She recently co-authored the opinion piece “This is what’s really happening to kids at the border” in the Washington Post.

“The president’s executive order is basically smoke and mirrors. It does not commit the federal government to ending the cruel practice of family separations,” she said. “And to the extent it proposes to substitute indefinite family detention, it violates an existing court order.”

Contact: mschlan@umich.edu


Vivek Sankaran, clinical professor of law, directs the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic at U-M. In a recent op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, he discusses how taking children away from their parents inflicts substantial suffering on those children, which is why current federal and state law only allows doing this as a last resort.

But immigrant children are not being protected at the same level.

“This nation has always served as a moral beacon for the rest of the world,” he said. “But our treatment of these children—who have done nothing wrong other than accompany their parents seeking a better life—is a disgrace that reflects on all of us,”

Contact: vss@umich.edu


Ann Lin, associate professor of public policy, has extensive knowledge of immigration policies and reform.

“What the Trump administration is doing is not deterrence and is not monitoring,” she said. “Instead, it is simply the violation of human rights for publicity, to create an image of ‘toughness.’

“Violence directed at the innocent in order to make a political statement or to accomplish a political end is called terrorism. That is what the administration is doing when it says that it is tearing families apart in order to get Congress to pass an immigration law. It is shameful and it deserves the condemnation of every civilized person.

“If the Trump Administration wishes to deter asylum seekers, it should turn back applicants at border crossings. This would violate American law, as well as the U.S.’s commitments under international law, but at least we would not be inflicting additional human rights abuse upon vulnerable asylum seekers.

“If the Trump Administration intends to comply with existing American asylum law, there is a simple way to prevent asylum seekers from “disappearing” into the US as illegal immigrants. Use electronic tethers to keep track of asylum seekers, and allow them to work while awaiting a determination of whether they qualify for asylum. Parents would then be able to care for their children at minimal cost to the US government.

Contact: 734-764-7507, annlin@umich.edu


William Lopez, a postdoctoral fellow in social work, co-authored a community health survey of Latinos in Washtenaw County, Mich., which showed the impact of an immigration raid in the community. He said the administration policies continue to negatively affect the community, regardless of their legal status.

“We have seen vast changes in the Latino community in Washtenaw County,” he said. “The amount of fear in the community—and consequential behavior changes—is at a level I have never seen in my decade working with this community.

“Using the mental health of children as a negotiating tool for a political gain is disgraceful, especially coming from the party of family values that claims to be pro-life.

“As Americans, we should not be in the business of placing value on the types of violence from which people flee. We should accept people because their lives are in danger, regardless of the source. That Central American violence is influenced by U.S. drug consumption, violent gang members trained in U.S. prisons prior to deportation, and an agriculture economy destabilized by U.S. trade restrictions should make us especially accepting of those fleeing gang violence, not less so.”

Contact: 210-363-1458, wdlopez@umich.edu


Fernanda Lima Cross is a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology with more than a decade of experience working with immigrant Latino families. Her research focuses on ethnic-racial socialization, experiences of discrimination, immigration, and how parental documentation status affects children’s psychosocial and academic outcomes. She says parents provide their children with important socialization messages to prepare them for experiences outside the home stemming from their minority status.

“How immigrant parents talk to their children about their culture and issues of race and ethnicity helps them develop a more positive ethnic identity, increased engagement with school, and improved mental health,” she said. “The current sociopolitical climate and ethnic-racial tensions in our country make parental messages about the family’s ethnic background even more important in counteracting negative media portrayals.

“When the parents are removed from the equation, kids are left with only the negative messages—that immigrants are at best unwanted and at worst criminals. This is particularly deleterious for teenagers as they develop their identity and notion of their place in the world.”

She points out that even a short-term separation is hurtful.

“Besides the enormous trauma associated with being separated from their parents, and not knowing what will become of them, these children are also likely experiencing high levels of discrimination and stigmatization,” she said. “Such experiences will definitely impact their development, leading to negative physical and mental health outcomes.”

Contact: flcross@umich.edu


Silvia Pedraza, professor of sociology and American culture, has interests in the sociology of immigration, and race and ethnicity in America, Cuba and Western Europe. Her research seeks to understand the causes and consequences of immigration as a historical process that forms and transforms nations. Pedraza is originally from Cuba. Her family fled the island after the revolution.

Contact: 734-647-3659, spedraza@umich.edu


Ashley Lucas, associate professor of theatre & drama and the Residential College, is director of the Prison Creative Arts Project.

“Despite the misleading things being said on Fox News about children in immigration detention being sent to places that are like ‘summer camps,’ the truth is that the children held in immigration detention centers are living in prisons. Detention—a locked facility which you cannot leave without the permission of authorities who are not your loved ones—is inherently a prison setting, no matter what you call it or what it looks like.

“Children who are taken from their parents are frightened and uninformed about their futures. Even under the best of circumstances—and these are clearly not at all the best of circumstances—children in detention settings receive fragmented care, from many different people they do not know or trust. If we would not do this to our own children, we should not do it to the children of others.”

Contact: 734-763-1860, lucasash@umich.edu


Jacek Debiec, assistant professor of psychiatry, studies the impact of separation from mothers in young rodents, including effects on brain structure and function, and long-term behavioral effects. His work also examines the power of “attachment cues” such as smell to affect the bond between parent and offspring. In addition, he treats traumatized children at a U-M psychiatry clinic, and can comment on the impacts of parental separation in other situations.

Contact: kegavin@umich.edu, 734-764-2220


Katherine Rosenblum, clinical professor of psychiatry and obstetrics & gynecology, and Maria Muzik, associate professor of psychiatry and obstetrics & gynecology, co-direct the U-M Women and Infants Mental Health Program, which includes both clinical care and research. Their programs include the Zero to Thrive initiative, which includes the Strong Military Families program aimed at preventing negative impacts on young children from separation from deployed parents.

Contact: kegavin@umich.edu, 734-764-2220