The fleeting childhood of U.S. border children

By Darlene Byrne, Judge, 126th Judicial District Court
The comments in this paper are solely the opinions of the writer and no other organization.  

As a judge in Texas who has presided over many hundreds of child abuse and neglect cases since 2003, I have seen firsthand what the trauma of removing a child from a parent can do to the child. The parent-child relationship is one of our most sacred and precious fundamental and constitutional rights, as recognized by many U.S. and Texas Supreme Court cases.

Sentencing innocent children at our U.S. borders, with instant removal from their parents with no notice, no warning, and no due process goes against the moral code of this nation. The events taking place at our southern border are no less traumatic for the affected children than cases in which a child is removed from their parents because of allegations of abuse and neglect.

However, unlike the process when the parent is charged with abuse or neglect, the forcible separation of families at the border occurs without due process or judicial oversight. For child abuse and neglect cases there are well developed federal and state laws, honed and refined over decades, to insure both the child and parents are provided with due process prior to any separation of children from their parents. There is immediate and ongoing judicial oversight of the investigation by child welfare professionals regarding removal of children.

The judge’s role is to asses whether the government has met the high burden required to justify removal of a child from the custody of the parent, governed by the mantra to Do No Harm to the child. Our laws seek to insure that children are not summarily stripped from their parent’s arms, and segregated in a holding cell or abandoned Walmart along with hundreds of other traumatized and removed children. But, if possible, placed with grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, or prior babysitters – people the child already knows and loves—or at least placed with a licensed foster parent with training in childcare and trauma. Even then, judicial oversight continues to encourage frequent visits and contacts with all but the most unfit parents within a very short time after removal.

As the chair of the Texas Statewide Collaboration on Trauma Informed Care, watching what is happening at my state’s border to these children is the antithesis of a trauma informed system of care and country. These policies ignore the mandate to do no harm to these children.

Although I am only one judge, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, of which I am a member and past president, has recently spoken against the separation of children and their families in the following resolution Childhood is fleeting. Time is of the essence. These children should not and cannot wait for the contentious and laborious wholesale overhaul of our country’s immigration policy, which our Congress has been working on for years. By then, their childhood will be over and the lifetime damage will be done. If anyone deserves action and due process, it is the innocent children arriving at our borders today.

2 responses

  1. I see and hear about what is happening at the border, but am left with no answers, only anger, frustration … and guilt … for doing nothing!!!

    What is it that an ordinary person can do?

    ~~ Karr
    Karr McElroy Smith


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