Family Separation & Detention

Photos © 2011 Michelle Frankfurter

In April 2018, Attorney General Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy under which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will refer all migrants who enter the U.S. without authorization to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution. This policy expands “Operation Streamline,” a program which began in 2005.

As a result of the zero tolerance policy, the government separated more than 2000 children from their parents at the border during the period of mid-April to June.  Since children cannot be held in criminal detention, the children are designated as “unaccompanied alien children” and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  ORR places the children in shelters until they are released to a family member, guardian, or foster family.

On June 20, President Trump signed an Executive Order intended to halt the separation of families. However, the order instructs DHS to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings and immigration proceedings. The Border Patrol has temporarily halted the referral for criminal prosecution of parents arriving with children, but there is no procedure currently in place to reunite the thousands of families already separated.



Contact Legislators
The American Bar Association is urging action in Congress to immediately reunify children who have been separated from their parents along the border, and not just for purposes of removal. Find your legislator through our comprehensive location-based search and let your voice be heard. Call or email your representatives right now! 

Share trusted, credible resources with friends, family, and colleagues, such as the ABA Journal.

Use #KeepFamiliesTogether in your social media posts to add to the national dialogue.


Your donation harnesses the power of lawyers to guarantee the rights of migrant children and families. Support free legal services to families at the border.

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Spanish Speakers Needed
If you speak Spanish, have a background in immigration law, and are willing to travel to Harlingen, Texas, please contact ProBAR’s Director of Outreach, Emily Joiner at ProBAR will be organizing delegations of Spanish-speaking lawyers for the foreseeable future but may not be able to schedule immediate volunteer opportunities.

Pro Bono Opportunities
If you are a lawyer outside of Texas, there are still many opportunities to volunteer with immigration legal service providers across the nation. Visit the ABA Immigration Child Advocacy Network (ICAN) website to sign up to provide pro bono legal services and the ABA will refer you to a legal service provider in your area.

Non-Lawyers Needed
You also do not need to be in Texas or a lawyer to help. Sign up to become a Young Center Child Advocate. The Young Center is a close ABA partner and their Child Advocates meet one-on-one weekly with a detained child and assist Young Center staff in advocating for that child’s best interests

Law Student Opportunities
If you’re a law student, several organizations are asking for your help. Discover how you can get involved locally and nationally with this comprehensive list of opportunities including grassroots advocacy groups and non-profit organizations.

Learn More

Get more information about the family separation and detention crisis including ABA presidential statements, ABA news, current legislation, additional resources, and ABA programs and partners.