CRC Releases Statement on Forced Family Separation Policy

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Update:  On June 20, 2018 President Trump signed an executive order to allow parents who have crossed the border into the United States illegally to remain with their children while they are detained. CRC leadership added the update to the earlier statement early June 21. 

CRC leaders write that as Christians, we believe that the family is a core component to God’s structuring of society.

On  June 18, the Christian Reformed Church released a statement expressing dismay about the forced separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The statement was signed by the denomination’s U.S. leaders.

The statement notes with alarm that that the new “zero tolerance” policy now being enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice separates vulnerable children from their parents.

“As Christians, we believe that the family is a core component to God’s structuring of society. Throughout the Bible, God’s work is told, experienced, and carried out by people in families,” the statement reads. “Acknowledging that the family is such a core building block for faith formation and kingdom work, we believe that governments should separate families only in the rarest of instances.”

Acknowledging that governments have the right to uphold laws and secure their borders, the statement calls on governments to use discretion and make the well-being of children as well as the upholding of human rights conventions key factors in making such decisions.

“As people of faith with a call to protect the vulnerable, welcome the stranger, and love our neighbors, we urge our leaders to act with compassion for people fleeing life-threatening persecution and to keep families together,” the statement reads. “We call on the U.S. administration to immediately end these unjust practices and to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the values of family unity, humane treatment, and refuge for persons being persecuted.”

The signatories also call on Congress to immediately act to reform the U.S. immigration system so that there are more, not fewer, opportunities for legal status and permanent protection for vulnerable immigrants. The statement encourages members of the denomination to keep this situation in their prayers, to educate themselves about issues facing immigrants, and to urge their lawmakers to enact laws that honor the blessings that immigrants bring to the country.

The statement ends with a link to the advocacy action center on the website of the Office of Social Justice. There, U.S. residents can send an email asking Congress to speak out against family separation and for a strong refugee resettlement program.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (7)


Actually, the OSJ action alert has some facts wrong.  There is a significantly different response to those who enter the US via a port of entry as opposed to those who enter at other (unlawful) locations.  The OSJ lumps them together (which is not merely an inconsequential detail).

By way of omission, this article and the action alert also fail to disclose how many (the majority I believe) of the children "separated" were not accompanied by their parents in the first place ("unaccompanied minors").  Nor how complex and convoluted, legally and practically speaking, this issue actually is.  And it is because for so many years, our nation changed its immigration policy by changing how it was implemented rather than by changing the law, correcting what needed correction.

So in usual fashion, the CRCNA "speaks out" and lobbies in a way that is politically fashionable (especially this issue) but in fact unhelpful.  This "speaking out" does little more that heap on without even doing the CRC membership the favor of elucidating the complexity of the issues involved or offering any elements of constructive solution.

Not a good sign, given the recent decisions of Synod 2018 in response to Overtures 13 and 14.

Asylum seekers who entered through ports of entry have also been separated from their children, sad but true. The numbers in the action alert are referring to kids who were separated from their parents not unaccompanied minors and they are accurate. 

Someone from the Facebook site called "Returning Church" (a discussion group of largely CRC pastors and other CRCers) posted the below information about the "children at the border" matter, suggesting he had gotten it from an attorney who did a bit of research.

I'm an attorney but have not done the detailed research that seems to have been done (see below) by another attorney.  Still, what is said below generally agrees with my general research/understanding as to the issue.  What the below does not talk about is that the Trump administration has (legally) changed its protocol in a way that (legally) regards those who come into the US unlawfully (that is, not at a port of entry) as having committed some level of crime (which is in accordance with what the law is now and has been).  Those criminal acts (crossing the border not at a port of entry) used to be largely ignored, resulting in what has been dubbed "catch and release." 

Indeed, as reported by a recent NPR article (, some (maybe most?) of these unlawfully entering immigrants are being told while yet in their country that "if you bring your kids, you'll be released from federal custody" (that is, "caught and released").  Of course, the repetition of that scenario creates a continuation of the problems we are trying to resolve now (that is, it creates continual new DACA generations, increases numbers of persons unlawfully here, increases disrepect for whatever laws we have as written, and diminishes any incentive to ever fix the law or "do comprehensive immigration reform").  In other words, the underlying problem perpetuates and increases into the future.  Something needs to stop the cycle (preferably a legislative overhaul that will required political 'give' by ALL SIDES) if the cycle is to stop.  What the administration seems to be doing, not just on this but elsewhere, is to enforce the law as written, while at the same time trying to negotiate what actually amounts to "comprehensive immigration reform."  So far, it does not appear that there is sufficient agreement as to what the immigration law should become to pass "comprehensive immigration reform."  Ironically, presenting one-sided accounts (or making those kinds of "statements"), while perhaps emotionally satisfying for some, probably makes agreement on comprehensive reform even more unlikely just because it pushes all sides to their own corner, widening rather than narrowing the gap (which is the opposite of peacemaking).

It is so important that complex issues not be oversimplified and then simplistically lobbied -- one way or another or another.  Most if not all of these kinds of matters are quite nuanced and complicated, which is usually why there are such disagreements about them in the first place.  When we oversimplify and lobby those oversimplifications, we just create needless and increasing division.  We are quickly becoming a society split dangerously wide by binary political perspectives.  The CRCNA should work to reduce that divide, not exacerbate it.

Immediately below is from the Returning Church post:


From an attorney

“So I've spent a bit of time researching this and, not that anyone cares but, President Trump hasn't changed any laws or regulations that pertain to separating kids from adults. Those remain the same. Separation happens only if officials find that the adult is falsely claiming to be the child’s parent, or is a threat to the child, or is put into criminal proceedings.

When a migrant is held for illegal entry they are taken into custody and any children are eventually placed in temporary shelters. Unless a migrant claims asylum because of religious, political or other persecution, they are typically returned with their kids to their home country within a few days.

IF they claim asylum and have all the protections we give for that (including 10 days to get an attorney), the adults will typically be detained longer than the government is allowed to hold kids as a result of the Flores v. Reno Consent Decree from 1997 under the Clinton administration in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and others and the 2016 9th Circuit Court of Appeals out of California enforcing that decree and specifically finding it to include accompanied minors. Children cannot be held in detention centers for more than 72 hours – even if they are with their parents. The Consent Decree originally was to terminate no later than 2002, but in 2001, the parties stipulated that it would terminate “45 days following defendants’ publication of final regulations implementing this Agreement.” The government has not yet promulgated those regulations and the court said that the terms of the 1997 Consent Decree "does not address the potentially complex issues involving the housing of family units and the scope of parental rights for adults apprehended with their children." No government, Democrat or Republican controlled, has done so FOR THE LAST 17 YEARS. The Court's opinion places one of the reasons on 9/11 and more restrictive immigration controls since. Yet, in 2008, Congress enacted the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 which codified into law most of the Flores Settlement.

So ...

1. The government is required to "release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to their adult relatives or licensed programs willing to accept custody." They have to be released within 20 days ... even if their parents are still in detention. 

2. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is obligated to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and any special needs.

3. The government must implement standards relating to the care and treatment of children in immigration detention.

We are a representative democracy with three equal branches of government, so even if Trump or even Obama wanted to "change the law", they can't.

Congress can change or adopt the rules so the Flores Consent Decree will no longer apply or will deal with this issue. In other words, it can do the same thing it could have been doing since 1997 and hasn't ... whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats. BTW: I'll be the first to admit the situation is a mess. The 9th Circuit Court even said as much in its decision.

One possible solution is to let the parent decide if they want their child to stay with them in a detention facility or be placed outside with family or others. Again though that will undoubtedly require court approval of regulations promulgated under Flores. Without those regulations from Congress and probable approval from the courts, presidents are left with two choices .... virtually open borders for anyone that has a child with them or separation of children from parents and those claiming to be their parents until their legal status is determined.

Instead of complaining on the internet about the president, urge Congress to fix the problem ... as much as it's possible to "fix" a humanitarian crisis.

Better yet ... offer your time, talent and treasure to organizations helping these kids on the border or to organizations working to improve living conditions in their home countries.”

It’s happening at ports of entry and in locations where people are committing a misdemeanor by going around ports of entry but I don’t think many are arguing whether or not the government has the legal right to do this. The argument is aimed at the fact that it’s damaging kids, it’s unwise and it’s outside the bounds of our values as a society. 

AP News just broke a story that babies and toddlers are being held at “tender age” shelters. Tender age shelters

So the president has now signed an executive order requiring that children be kept with detained parents, and directing the AG to challenge the prior court consent decree that severely limits the amount of time DHS can do what this exec order tells them to do.

Will this solve the larger problem?  Of course not, because solving the larger problem was never what this PR driven outrage was about in the first place.  In fact, I predict the Democrats will fight this exec order and the consent decree modification this exec order directs be pursued.  In other words, they will say "no" to everything except perhaps a return to non-enforcement of the law ("catch and release") or a new law that essentially removes border restrictions.  And those "yes" options are clear "no" options for Republicans or anyone else that wants some meaningful limit on immigrant influx (I'm in the latter camp).

The larger problem right now is that for decades, the US government has ignored its own immigration law, and thereby encouraged thousands and thousands from many countries to decide to emigrate to the US but not by the rules.  US rules (law) weren't the de facto rules (law) after all.  And that has spawned, among other problems, a cartel driven human smuggling problem south of the US (which is why so many "unaccompanied minors" showed up at the border during Obama's admin and still do -- the coyotess and parents who pay them thousands of dollars understand "catch and release" and use it).

The problem has been so great that even Barak Obama decided he needed to do something about the unlawful inflow (using measures sometime quite similar to those used by the Trump admin, even if not protested by the CRCNA or others), despite Obama's sympathetic posture to open borders generally.

So here we are.  Making righteously indignant protests about a not new micro-phenomena driven by a much larger political disagreement that politically polarized sides refuse to compromise on.

And the CRCNA political left-side heap-on helps not one bit, but rather just adds its two cents to the polarization effort.

The reason why so many US citizens protest this policy is that the federal government seized emergency legal rights to these children and that is a dangerous road for a government to be traveling on. By now, the federal government has essentially taking temporary legal rights to most of these children since their parents still do not have decision making authority over them.

The federal government has no idea what to do with legal rights to children and it appears that Congress is working on laws that would transfer federal rights of chidren to the states immediately upon seizure. Whether or not, the federal or state government should take permanent legal rights to a few particular children until they are 18 years old, should not be the focus here.

If the author is correct, that “As Christians, we believe that the family is a core component to God’s structuring of society" then we ask that the members of this church focus on policies and procedures that will keep families intact, with every layer of protection given to parents to keep legal rights of their own children.  As Congressman Ro Khanna clearly stated, this is not only a consitutional right it is also a basic human right no matter where parents are from or what land their children were born on. In the State of California we are asking that our members contact their Congress and State reps to give them personal opinions on the importance of families as the core component of our society. We believe that every layer of protection should be afforded to each parent's interest in their own child over the competing interests of our federal and state governments.