KIND Releases Report Detailing the Ongoing Practice of Separating Children from Their Parents as They Seek Asylum

July 16, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – This Friday is the deadline for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply with a court order to release children from family immigration detention in order to protect them from the threat of COVID-19. The Department of Homeland Security has already said that it may release only the children and not their parents, setting the stage for another brutal round of family separation among immigrant families seeking asylum. Today, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) is releasing a report which looks at the deep, ongoing harm of continued family separation KIND has witnessed in its work and the gaps that remain in tracking and preventing wrongful separation. Taken with the 2018 Trump Administration policy of “zero tolerance”, the separations that continued after its official end, and separations that occurred in 2017, more than 5,400 children have been forcibly separated from their parents under the administration, some of whom have never been reunited.

“That the government is still separating children from their parents after a federal court has ruled such separations unlawful and the harm to children that the ‘zero tolerance’ policy has caused has been clearly documented is unconscionable,” said Wendy Young, President of KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). “The administration has shown over and over again that it will knowingly sacrifice children’s lives and safety in its immigration law enforcement efforts.”

The report found:

  • Family separation has continued since the end of the “zero-tolerance” policy in alarming numbers due to a lack of standards to guide when separations should occur or oversight to ensure appropriate child welfare standards are being met,
  • There are still no adequate systems for identifying, tracking, and reuniting separated children today, even as the government proposes to separate families in detention. The government failed to carry out the most basic planning for the implementation of its “zero-tolerance” policy in 2018, which resulted in chaos and devastating harm to children.
  • KIND attorneys saw an alarming increase in child separation in the spring of 2019, months after the end of “zero tolerance.”
  • More than 1,150 additional children were forcibly separated from their parents and more than 200 of these children were under the age of five.
  • A new form of family separation is taking place as children in families who have been forced to wait in dangerous border towns in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed are coming the United States alone because their parents have disappeared or were kidnapped, or due to unsafe conditions.

Since the administration abandoned “zero tolerance” in June 2018 and a federal court deemed the practice of family separation unconstitutional, KIND has worked to reunite separated families, provide legal representation, and offer social services to help families heal from the trauma of separation.

KIND’s report provides recommendations to improve the treatment of children and families at the border and prioritize children’s wellbeingbeing.

  • DHS should immediately halt all parent-child and guardian-child separations. In the exceptional case where separation may be warranted due to human trafficking or other child welfare concerns, a child welfare professional should conduct an assessment before any separation occurs and recommend separation only when specific criteria—based on child welfare standards that put the best interest of the child at the forefront of the decision-making process—are present..
  • DHS should hire licensed child welfare professionals to oversee the care and screening of all children in CBP custody and facilities.
  • DHS should immediately stop placing children in the Migrant Protection Protocols and expelling unaccompanied children under the false pretext of protecting public health. Expulsions violate protections for unaccompanied children under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and expose children to grave harm, including human trafficking.

The full text of KIND’s report can be found here.

To speak with Wendy Young or other attorneys working with unaccompanied children at KIND, please contact Megan McKenna at or 202-631-9990.


Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is a global leader in the protection of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children. Launched in 2008, KIND champions a world in which every child’s rights and well-being are protected throughout their journey to safety. KIND has provided over 21,000 children with high quality representation in their immigration proceedings by training more than 41,000 attorneys, and cultivating partnerships with 670 law firms, corporate legal departments, law schools, and bar associations across the country.