Child Migrant Protection Toolkit

How NASW, its chapters and association members are addressing this humanitarian crisis and what you can do to help

child behind chicken wire fence

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is  deeply concerned about children who have migrated with or without their families from the Northern Triangle countries in Central America and  are seeking asylum. 

These children have been traumatized by the conditions in their countries, including gang violence. They have been further traumatized by having to flee their homes and, in many cases, being separated from their parents. Many also live with mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

These vulnerable children’s physical and emotional well-being  are further jeopardized by ill-advised border enforcement policies. They are also experiencing harsh conditions while in confinement,  including placement in extremely overcrowded Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities and denial of access to beds, adequate nutrition and medical and mental health care. This treatment amounts to abuse and neglect of vulnerable children and, we believe, violates applicable law.

The inhumane treatment of these children offends the conscience of our profession. NASW is working on a number of fronts to address this humanitarian crisis, including meeting with key Congressional leaders and participating in numerous immigration-related coalitions. Social workers must continue to be on the front line in fighting to protect these children’s welfare.

This toolkit includes ways you can make a difference today! It includes information on legislation to help migrants; a form letter that you can send to your state governor and state legislators to urge them to take action; NASW Social Justice Briefs, statements and research regarding immigration; and links to NASW partner organizations.  


Federal Legislation

Congressional lawmakers have introduced numerous bills aimed at promoting the humane treatment of child migrants. We encourage you to reach out to your lawmakers now to express your support for them. Stay tuned for Action Alerts on these bills which will enable you to contact your lawmaker directly.

    • Keep Families Together Act (H.R. 541 /S. 292 ):  The bill is designed to comprehensively limit the separation of families at or near ports of entry .
    • Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act (H.R. 3918 /S. 2113 ): This bill  would end family separations at the southern border, strengthen health and safety protections for children and families, and provide additional guardrails and stronger standards to ensure that government funds are not used to traumatize or harm asylum seekers.
    • Family Reunification Act (H.R. 3312 ): This bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for an extension of the application period for certain undocumented individuals present in the United States for adjustment of status.
    • U.S. Border Patrol Medical Screening Standards Act (H.R. 3525 ): The bill would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to direct the Commissioner of CBP to establish uniform processes for medical screening of individuals interdicted between ports of entry.
    • Strategic and Humane Southern Border Migrant Response Act (H.R. 3731 ): The bill is intended to respond to the Northern Triangle migrant surge at the southern border in a strategic and humane manner.    

   Take time to learn more about this legislation.      

State Investigations

Based on widespread media coverage and other reports (see below), governors and state lawmakers in states where HHS and ORR facilities are located likely have the authority to order state oversight agencies to investigate the facilities. Social workers in these states are urged to contact their and state lawmakers to urge them to order these agencies, including CPS and facility licensing agencies, to take proactive steps to ensure the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of child migrants and to promptly follow up on reports of suspected child maltreatment at these facilities. We have prepared a sample letter that you can personalize for this purpose.  

NASW Resources

Unaccompanied Migrant Children: Overview and Recommendations

This social justice brief discusses the root causes triggering migration from Central America, the humanitarian elements of the issue, and recommendations for a coordinated response.

Migrant and Asylum-Seeking Families: Analysis of Federal Government Policies and Procedures

The Trump Administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy that has had a devastating impact on the way immigrant families and children are processed at the border. 

Afghan Newcomer Toolkit

The Trump Administration implemented a zero-tolerance policy that has had a devastating impact on the way immigrant families and children are processed at the border. 

Immigration in Crisis

Learn the strengths of Afghan newcomers, the potential challenges they may face due to their present circumstances in the U.S., as well as the ongoing impacts of prior experiences in the country of origin.

Social Workers, Immigration Policies and State Benefits

This Legal Issue of the Month article reviews recent legal policy as enacted by U.S. Congress, the state of Arizona and related interpretations of the law regarding immigrants’ eligibility for public benefits, documentation and reporting requirements.

Intersection of Sanctuary Cities, National Immigration Policies, and Child Welfare Policies & Practice in the Trump Era

The sanctuary city movement has become inextricably tied to U.S. immigration policy. This brief looks at how the sanctuary city movement evolved.  

Families & Immigration: A Quick Resource Guide (2013)

Immigration laws can often affect child welfare case planning and service delivery. Social workers are in a position to
support immigrant children, youth and families in accessing immigration assistance and services to ensure their safety, permanency and well-being.

How to Volunteer To Help Immigrant Children Separated from Family

Social workers eager to help immigrants who have been separated from their children have a wealth of resources at their disposal. The truth is one of them.

How Social Workers Can Help Immigrant Children and Families (Video)

Advice from Miriam Nisenbaum, MSW, LMSW, ACSW, executive director of the NASW Texas Chapter.

NASW Immigration Policy Toolkit (2006 - 2008)

The purpose of the toolkit is to provide NASW chapters, members, and other entities with policy information and tools to promote the competency of social workers in the immigration field, to fight discrimination against immigrants, and to take social and political action in support of the rights of immigrants.

Multicultural Issues in Social Work

This NASW Press publication presents a collective vision of multiculturalism and calls for research and practice based on the knowledge that individuals cannot be readily identified by single cultural categories.

NASW Research Library, Immigration

NASW members have unlimited access to more than 25 international databases with thousands of documents from leading research institutions, think tanks and advocacy groups.

NASW Public Statements

NASW has issued many public statements in response to policies and actions that have threatened the well-being of immigrants, especially child migrants. Several of our statements are listed below.

NASW Joins Amicus Brief Opposing Move to End Flores Settlement (Sept. 4, 2019)

NASW Condemns Trump Administration’s Nationwide Removal Raids on Immigrant Families (July 15, 2019)

NASW Applauds U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Block 2020 Census Citizenship Question (July 3, 2019)

Trump Administration’s proposed mass raids on migrant families misguided, harmful (June 24, 2019)

NASW takes issue with President Trump's Immigration Executive Order, demands more coherent, humane policy (June 22, 2018)

NASW says plan to separate undocumented immigrant children from their parents is malicious and unconscionable (May 30, 2018)

NASW opposes "citizenship question" on 2020 Census (April 5, 2018)

NASW opposes President Trump’s Revocation of Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Immigrants  (January 19, 2018)

NASW says President Trump order to rescind DACA is cruel, unwise and unjustified (September 7, 2017)

NASW Coalition Partners

NASW recognizes the power of national interdisciplinary coalitions to protect human rights and social injustice. Therefore, we are engaged and valued participants and leaders in the nation’s most influential immigration advocacy coalitions. These include:

The Immigration Hub

The Immigration Hub is a national organization of 100+ organizations dedicated to advancing fair and just immigration policies through strategic leadership, innovative communications strategies, legislative advocacy and collaborative partnerships.

Protecting Immigrant Families

The Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) Campaign is dedicated to providing more community-facing materials on public charge to help better equip immigrants with what they need to know to make the best decision for themselves and for their families.

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Immigration Task Force

The Leadership Conference’s founders came together in 1950 out of the belief that the fight for civil rights could not be won by one group alone but needed to be waged in coalition. Its membership has grown to more than 200 organizations today.

Meet the Experts

Guadelupe Lara

Guadelupe Lara, MSW, LMSW

Lara is Director of the Consortium of Hispanic Agencies. She can give insight on the plight of immigrants and what social workers and others are doing on the front lines to help them.

Mark Lusk

Mark Lusk, EdD, MSW, LMSW

Lusk, a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso School of Social Work, has worked in the field to help child immigrants and can talk about the challenges social workers on the ground face. Lusk has been interviewed by Fox News and El Diario about his experiences.

Roxana Torrico Meruvia

Roxana Torrico Meruvia, MSW

Former NASW Senior Practice Associate Roxana Torrico Meruvia can comment on what the public can do to support immigrant families. Children living in immigrant households are the fastest growing child population in the united states.

Mel Wilson

Mel Wilson, MBA, LCSWC

Wilson is  NASW Senior Policy Consultant on Social Justice.  He can offer insight on what NASW and partner organizations are doing to address the issue of unaccompanied child immigrants.

Media Toolkits


For more information on this issue contact NASW Senior Policy Consultant on Social Justice Mel Wilson at

To arrange an interview with one of our experts, contact NASW Communications Director Greg Wright at