Family Separation at the U.S. Border

The Christian Alliance for Orphans is not a lobbying entity and generally keeps a strong focus on the role of families and churches, not government.  However, we are sometimes asked to share perspective and insight on issues related to vulnerable children with the Federal, state and international governments.

Current debates on immigration cover myriad complex issues.  Few today would argue that America’s immigration system is not in need of serious repair.  Even among committed Christians, there is place for legitimate disagreement over how a nation can best honor the dignity of those who desire to immigrate while also applying immigration rules with firm consistency and fairness.

However, amidst all the hard-to-settle questions, it seems that all Christians and others of goodwill should be able to agree with a simple principle that extends far beyond immigration:

Children should always remain in the care of their parents unless impossible or unsafe. 

As the CAFO Core Principles state, “Both Scripture and social science affirm that the best environment for children is a safe, permanent family.”  It is not only sentiment and gut-level conviction that tell us children ought to be with their parents.  Scripture and millennia of Christian tradition unequivocally set the family as God’s design for the primary nurture and teaching of children.  In recent decades, an immense array of empirical studies has confirmed the same truth:  children thrive within the love, nurture and protection that parents uniquely provide…and wither without them.  No government program or other social scheme can replace family.

This is why the seminal CAFO White Paper “On Understanding Orphan Statistics” lays out three priorities for vulnerable children.  First, preserving families.  Second, reuniting families.  Third, expanding families.

Virtually all good public policy begins with the priority of family

Certainly, there are exceptions to any principle.  When parents are unwilling or unable to care for a child or when a parent presents a significant danger to their child, parents and children may need to be separated temporarily or even permanently.

But virtually all good public policy begins with the priority of family, and the assumption that children belong in families.  Then – when necessary – it seeks to address whatever problems and challenges there are in ways that do as little harm to that first principle as possible.

The axiom that family is primary is the foundation of any good law and any wise policy solution.

Amidst all that is taking place, there is certainly a silver lining.  Many leaders from both sides of the aisle seem to be taking these matters very seriously, including Senator James Lankford, a regular participant in the CAFO community.  The urgency of the issue at hand may ultimately lead to deeper, wider reforms than would have been otherwise possible.

The axiom that family is primary is the foundation of any good law and any wise policy solution.  This certainly does not mean that a country cannot establish and enforce a legal framework for immigration.  But such systems must do all possible to preserve the unity of families even as they protect the safety of the nation and the integrity of its laws. Whatever must be done to repair America’s immigration system, it won’t be what it ought to be unless it preserves the inviolability of family.


For a well-written explanation of the issue of family separation at the border, see this article from the Gospel Coalition, “The FAQs: What You Should Know About Family Separation at the Border.”

*Photo courtesy of the UK Independent.