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Mayor Durkan Leads Mayors Across U.S. in Urging DOJ and DHS to End Policy Tearing Children Away From Families

Letter Signed by More Than 25 U.S. Mayors; Proposal Calls for Reversal of Policy

Seattle (June 8) – Seattle Mayor and former U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan drafted a letter in strong opposition to the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security’s newly adopted “zero tolerance” policy, which calls for the prosecution of migrants entering the United States outside ports of entry. The new policy entails the forcible separation of children from their parents and is expected to result in a substantial increase in migrant children living in government shelters away from their guardians and caregivers. The letter urges DOJ and DHS to take immediate action toward the reversal of the so-called “zero tolerance” policy. More than 25 mayors and other leaders from across the country, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh have signed on against this protocol.

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the Trump Administration’s endorsement of splitting apart families,” said Mayor Durkan. “Both as a mayor and as a mother, I find the practice of indefinitely separating kids from their parents a repulsive policy, inconsistent with our values as Americans. Tearing families apart traumatizes children and torments immigrants who have already endured grueling trials in their escape from violence and terror.”

“Family is everything,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “You don’t have to be a parent to know in your heart that separating a child from her mother is a cruel, heartless, unnecessary act that strikes a blow against everything we believe as Americans – and all that we are as compassionate human beings. There are so many things to say about this injustice, but today it comes down to two words for this administration: stop now.”

DHS has separated 700 children from their families since October 2017, and the number of children in HHS custody has grown by nearly 2,000 in the past month alone, according to media reports. If the Office of Refugee Resettlement cannot locate an adult to care for a child, that child will stay in federal custody, separated from family, indefinitely.

This action comes at a time of both local and international protest against the federal administration’s controversial immigrant enforcement practices, as even the United Nations has spoken out against the U.S. calling for the federal administration to “immediately halt” its accelerating policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border.

At the 86th Annual Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayor Durkan will introduce an emergency resolution through the USCM Criminal Justice Committee. The resolution, co-sponsored by a number of Mayors, condemns DOJ and DHS’ extreme zero tolerance policy of separating children from their families at the border and endorses policies to “allow families apprehended to remain together to the extent possible, to help avoid the heartbreak and irreversible trauma of forced separation.”

The proposed resolution also calls on Congress to take immediate action to end this policy through legislation. USCM resolutions will be voted on and passed by the full Conference on Monday, June 11.

June 7, 2018

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen:

We write in strong opposition to the newly enacted “zero tolerance” policy of the Department of Justice, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which calls for the prosecution of migrants entering the United States outside of ports of entry and the resulting forced separation of children from their families.

Over the last few weeks, considerable attention has been brought to the plight of children at the Southern border. According to coverage by the New York Times, as of April 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed that DHS had already separated more than 700 children from their parents since October 2017, including more than 100 children under age four.

With the recent Department of Justice adoption of a “zero tolerance” policy towards individuals apprehended at the border, DHS will separate even more children from their families. While parents and caregivers are processed in the criminal court system and held in federal jails, their children will be classified as unaccompanied minors and housed in shelters awaiting placement with a US-based adult who can assume their care. If the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) cannot locate a US-based adult able to care for the child, the child will stay in federal custody, separated from family, indefinitely.

We see that this increase has already begun: According to media reports, the number of children in HHS custody has grown by nearly 2,000 over the past month alone. Shelters for migrant children are reportedly at 95% capacity, and HHS is preparing to add potentially thousands of beds in the coming weeks to accommodate the rising number of detained children. We find these statistics extremely disturbing. 

Separating children from their families in this manner is an insult to American family values. Many of these families are fleeing violence in their home countries, and it is inhumane to punish them for seeking safety and invoking their right to seek asylum in the US. Separating children from their parents and caregivers exacerbates the trauma that many have already suffered before coming to the United States.

Additionally, by adopting a policy that forcibly separates immigrant families, DOJ and DHS fuel the climate of hostility experienced by many immigrants and refugees residing here, which causes many to feel alienated and avoid contact with government agencies. As mayors, we are deeply troubled by the culture of fear perpetuated by the federal government that discourages immigrants from contacting local police and other public agencies.

We implore your agencies to reverse this destructive policy. Families apprehended should be able to remain together to the extent possible, to help avoid the irreversible trauma of forced separation. The “zero tolerance” policy enacted by your respective agencies has the potential to be incredibly disruptive and will have far-reaching negative impacts on children and families.

Please end this “zero tolerance” policy and do the right thing: keep families together.


Jenny A. Durkan                                 Seattle, WA

Lyda Krewson                                    St. Louis, MO

Jonathan Rothschild                           Tucson, AZ

Rahm Emanuel                                   Chicago, IL

Eric Garcetti                                       Los Angeles, CA

Miguel A. Pulido                                Santa Ana, CA

Sam Liccardo                                     San Jose, CA

Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins                  Dallas County, TX

Muriel Bowser                                    Washington, D.C.

Darrell Steinberg                                Sacramento, CA

Lydia E. Lavelle                                 Carrboro, NC

County Supervisor Jim Provenza       Yolo County, CA

Cheryl Selby                                       Olympia, WA

Immigrant Rights Commission          San Francisco City and County, CA

Pam Hemminger                                Chapel Hill, NC

Mary Casillas Salas                            Chula Vista, CA

John J. Bauters                                   Emeryville, CA

Paul R. Soglin                                     Madison, WI

Buddy Dyer                                        Orlando, FL

Jennifer Gregerson                             Mukilteo, WA

Ted Winterer                                      Santa Monica, CA

Sofia Pereira                                       Arcata, CA

Executive Dow Constantine               King County, WA

Martin J. Walsh                                  Boston, MA

Allan Ekberg                                      Tukwila, WA

Alex Morse                                         Holyoke, MA