Tell Secretary Azar: Reunite Families Now | Physicians for Human Rights
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Deadline looming: Tell HHS to reunite kids with families NOW

The clock is ticking on the court-appointed deadline to reunite asylum-seeking children who have been cruelly separated from their parents at the U.S. border. Every day of separation and detention causes more trauma. The research makes the toll of these delays painfully clear: for refugees, being forcibly separated from family has an impact on standard mental health indicators that is matched only by the experience of being beaten and tortured. As health professionals and supporters of human rights, we must demand action now.

Tell HHS Secretary Azar: As medical professionals, we call on you to reunite families NOW

Your Message
Reunite Every Child
Dear Secretary Azar,

I urge you to take immediate action to reunite families separated at the U.S. southern border and to press the administration to end the harmful and cruel practice of family detention.

Family reunification is a core duty of the Department of Health and Human Services, which has an affirmative obligation to track and unite family members. We urge you to comply with the recent court order by swiftly, humanely, and efficiently reuniting separated children with their families. In addition, we call on you to provide details to the public about how your agency intends to reunify families.

Physicians for Human Rights knows that policies affecting immigrant and asylum-seeking children should be guided by the best-interest-of-the-child standard as well as evidence regarding the health and well-being of children. And when it comes to family separation, the research is very clear: children should not be separated. Indeed, among refugees, only the experience of being beaten and tortured had a similar impact on all three mental health measures (PTSD, depression, and psychological well-being) as family separation.

Moreover, reunification must not be accomplished by putting parents and children in jail together, let alone in the prolonged and austere conditions contemplated by the U.S. administration. As Physicians for Human Rights has recently stated, immigration detention is harmful and strongly correlated with negative mental health outcomes. Children who are detained have been shown to exhibit poor physical and psychological health even after a brief stay in detention, which increase the risk of long-term negative effects. Detention has a devastating impact on families, including from restrictions that constrain the ability of parents to respond to their child’s needs in a normal manner.

As a Cabinet member, it is your duty to advise the president about the child welfare implications of policies being implemented by other departments. Tent cities on military bases are no place for children or families. As the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, you must not approve such plans of action. You cannot be complicit in attempts to undermine legal protections for children which seek to detain children indefinitely or to exempt facilities from state licensing requirements. I urge you to publicly express your opposition to these policies.

You must:
• Publicly disclose your reunification plan and all measures being taken to comply with the court ruling;
• Facilitate communication between parents and children, including by properly staffing the Office of Refugee Resettlement hotline and ensuring it is accessible to detained parents;
• Ensure that parents and children are not kept apart due to denial of bond or parole fees;
• Immediately investigate the extent of harms caused to children in HHS custody by family separation and publicly disclose those findings; and
• Advise the administration on child rights-respecting, community-based alternatives to family separation in order to ensure compliance with the 1997 Flores settlement.


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