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Immigration reform must preserve family unity
April 10, 2013

Immigration reform must preserve family unity
Fr. Sean Carroll, S.J., executive director of the Kino Border Initiative talks with Sr. Engracia Robles of the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, at the KBI in Nogales, Mexico. (Christian Fuchs—Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Appendix II
A short walk from here, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, is a statue of Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary from the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, representing the State of Arizona. He was a man of many talents. He was a mathematician and a cartographer. He also helped native peoples organize self-sustaining missions and he served as a trustworthy intermediary between the Spanish authorities and native peoples in what are now Southern Arizona and the Northern part of the Mexican State of Sonora. He had an incredible capacity to persevere in the midst of enormous challenges, and because of his courage and vision, he has left a legacy of life and hope that continues to this day. Fr. Kino serves as a great example for us, as we debate comprehensive immigration reform. He inspires us to move forward, to recognize and value the dignity of the human person and to be a source of unity. By following his lead and embracing his spirit, we will pass immigration legislation that keeps families together, that provides stability and hope for our children and strengthens the social fabric of our nation.
(Washington, D.C.) April 10, 2013 — Father Sean Carroll S.J., Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative, is testifying today at an Ad-hoc Congressional Hearing. The Jesuit priest is highlighting failures to preserve family unity in the context of immigration enforcement and offering four recommendations for Congressional consideration. 

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA believes the U.S. should live up to its tradition of fairness and generosity toward refugees and migrants, and uphold international standards for the treatment of those seeking refuge in this country. Improvements in U.S. law and policy are needed to protect the rights of asylum seekers, forcibly displaced people, vulnerable migrants, and detained immigrants in the United States.

In his testimony, Fr. Carroll notes that "Because of our current policies, the Applied Research Center’s report "Shattered Families" finds that 5,100 children are in foster care since they cannot be with a detained or deported parent. In the first six months of 2011, the United States government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S. citizen children. This reality falls far short of what Scripture teaches regarding care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Our current policies essentially leave many children as orphans, wives and husbands as widows and widowers and the stranger deported across the border, away from their family members who need them so deeply.  

"This report, supported by our experience and service on the border, confirms the disastrous effects of current U.S. immigration policies on families, whether through the process of deportation or because of mixed immigration status. We can and must do better. Out of respect for the God-given dignity of the human person and my deep commitment to justice and compassion, I offer these four recommendations for your consideration today."

The full text of Fr. Carroll's testimony as prepared for delivery is beneath the video:



Written Testimony Submitted to the House of Representatives

Ad-hoc Committee Hearing

Regarding Failures to Preserve Family Unity in the Context of Immigration Enforcement at the Border and Beyond

Submitted by:

Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J., Executive Director of the Kino Border Initiative, a Jesuit migrant ministry on the U.S./Mexico Border

on behalf of

The Kino Border Initiative, the U.S. Jesuit Conference and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

Congressman Grijalva and members of this Ad-Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives, thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony on family separation caused by current U.S. immigration policy. 

We at the Kino Border Initiative witness daily this lived tragedy through the deported migrants who pass through the KBI’s Aid Center for Deported Migrants and through Nazareth House, KBI’s shelter for migrant women and children. Since KBI’s founding over four years ago, we have sat with mothers who cry inconsolably as they speak to their children on the phone — children who ask their mothers about where they are and when they will be coming home.  We have provided food and clothing to deported men, who tell us of the unspeakable pain of not being able to see their wives and children, because they have no legal recourse to come to the United States and to be with them. We see women in our shelter who are deported to a different port of entry on the U.S./Mexico border than their husbands, and endure awful trauma as they try to find them. At the U.S./Mexico border, we are witnesses to what many don’t see or refuse to acknowledge: the physical, psychological and emotional destruction caused by current U.S. immigration policies in the lives of Mexican and Central American men, women and children looking to be reunited with their family members who live in the United States.

In collaboration with the United States Jesuit Conference and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Kino Border Initiative has published a report that analyzes five themes: family separation due to deportation practices, families torn apart by their mixed migration status, violence as a motivator of migration and a risk factor during migration, abuse by U.S. immigration authorities, and abuse by Mexican authorities and organized crime.i It is based on results from a survey conducted with 4,965 migrants from March to September of 2012 as well as on data gathered in the same year throughout the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border of returned migrants by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, Mexico.ii Data from the Kino Border Initiative survey with migrants in Nogales, Sonora shows that 38.4% of migrants were separated from a family member with whom they were traveling when deported from the United States to Mexico.iii These findings confirm what KBI staff and volunteers have observed over the past three years. We at the Kino Border Initiative watch in disbelief as we receive women deported to Nogales while their husbands are repatriated to distant points of entry along the U.S./Mexico border because of the Department of Homeland Security’s Alien Transfer Exit Program or "ATEP." These women endure serious trauma because of separation from their husbands, since they are alone in an unfamiliar city and very vulnerable to exploitation and violence at the hands of organized criminal syndicates that prey on recently deported migrants. The Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist on our staff make an enormous effort to call shelters along the U.S./Mexico border and try to locate the women’s spouses. Obstacles abound and the pain is incalculable.

We at the KBI have also noticed with grave concern how the border keeps migrants apart from family members living in the United States. We see how it affects people like Juliaiv, who left her two children with her husband in Chicago to return to the Mexican State of Michoacán to care for her sick mother. Yet, when Julia tried to return to her family in the United States, she was arrested and deported to Nogales, Sonora, where we received her in our shelter for migrant women and children. Similarly, Juan was deported to Nogales, Sonora and was separated from his wife along with four of his five children who were living in the United States. He spent months in Nogales, Sonora, filled with the pain of knowing that he could not provide for his family in Phoenix, and deeply concerned about their personal and economic well-being.

With each passing day, we as a country continue to separate family members, through our immigration laws and our detention and deportation practices, contrary to the rhetoric of family values that permeates our political discourse. Because of our current policies, the Applied Research Center's report "Shattered Families" finds that 5,100 children are in foster care since they cannot be with a detained or deported parent. In the first six months of 2011, the United States government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S. citizen children.v This reality falls far short of what Scripture teaches regarding care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.vi Our current policies essentially leave many children as orphans, wives and husbands as widows and widowers and the stranger deported across the border, away from their family members who need them so deeply.  

This report, supported by our experience and service on the border, confirms the disastrous effects of current U.S. immigration policies on families, whether through the process of deportation or because of mixed immigration status. We can and must do better. Out of respect for the God-given dignity of the human person and my deep commitment to justice and compassion, I offer these four recommendations for your consideration today:

1. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), across all agencies, must proactively determine familial relationships among apprehended migrants, and ensure that families aren’t separated during deportation. DHS must put an end to programs like ATEP which result in the repatriation of migrant crossers to distant ports of entry from their family members.

2. To promote a minimal level of safety, DHS should expand its principle of family unity to include aunts, uncles and cousins, particularly striving to ensure that migrants are deported with their traveling companions.

3. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must end its pattern of disregard for family integrity, and should begin to exercise discretion in favor of preserving family unity in decisions to apprehend, detain and remove migrants from U.S. citizen and permanent resident family members; a similar policy to one implemented by ICE in June 2011.

4. Congress should create mechanisms within the context of comprehensive immigration reform to guarantee appropriate judicial and administrative oversight of CBP decisions, including the establishment of a U.S. Border Patrol Ombudsman’s office, judicial review of CBP decisions to deport in spite of existing U.S.-citizen familial relationships, and mechanisms for DHS to interface effectively with state child welfare systems to protect the parental rights of migrant parents and the welfare of their U.S. citizen minor children.

Please reference the appendices to my written testimony, which contain additional recommendations for your review.  By making these policy changes, we will live out more fully our deepest identity as a nation and as a people.

A short walk from here, in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, is a statue of Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary from the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, representing the State of Arizona. He was a man of many talents. He was a mathematician and a cartographer. He also helped native peoples organize self-sustaining missions and he served as a trustworthy intermediary between the Spanish authorities and native peoples in what are now Southern Arizona and the Northern part of the Mexican State of Sonora. He had an incredible capacity to persevere in the midst of enormous challenges, and because of his courage and vision, he has left a legacy of life and hope that continues to this day. Fr. Kino serves as a great example for us, as we debate comprehensive immigration reform. He inspires us to move forward, to recognize and value the dignity of the human person and to be a source of unity. By following his lead and embracing his spirit, we will pass immigration legislation that keeps families together, that provides stability and hope for our children and strengthens the social fabric of our nation. 

Appendix I: Documented Failures: the Consequences of Immigration Policy on the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Appendix II: Recommendations for Safe Repatriation: Modifications of Current Policy and Practice to Local Arrangement for Repatriation of Mexican Nationals to Nogales, Sonora (attached PDF)


i. Michael S. Danielson, "Documented Failures: The Consequences of Immigration Policy on the U.S.-Mexico Border," February 12, 2013.

ii. El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Consejo Nacional de Población, Secretaria del Trabajo y Previsión Social, Instituto Nacional de Migración, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, "Encuesta de Migrantes en la Frontera Norte – Migrantes Devueltos por autoridades migratorias de los Estados Unidos" (EMIF) ("Survey of Migrants at the Northern Border – Migrants Returned by United States Immigration Authorities"), January to March, 2012.  This survey documents information on Mexican migrants repatriated from the United States to Mexico and corroborates data found in the "Documented Failures" report.

iii. "Documented Failures," 11.

iv. Name changed to respect the privacy of the individual.

v. Seth Freed Wessler, "Shattered Families," Applied Research Center, November 2011, 6 and 11.

vi. Exodus 22:21-22, Deuteronomy 27:19, Zechariah 7:10.


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