PhD Mama Collective Calls for an End to Family Separation and Family Detention

As scholars, mothers, and human beings, we forcefully reject the Trump administration’s recently enacted policy of separating children from their parents as part of their “zero-tolerance policy,” and we condemn in equal measure the recent modification of this policy to permit the indefinite detention of families, including children. Every minute that the several thousands children affected by this policy are apart from their parents or in detention is one minute too many. We refuse to allow this to continue in our names–and our own children’s names–and demand that the Trump administration stop separating AND detaining families and children crossing the border. We also call upon the UC community to step in and help make this happen by publicly raising our voices and by supporting efforts to reunite and free detained families.

The practices of separating children from their parents or of detaining them indefinitely constitute organized, government-sponsored child abuse. As parents of young children of the same age as those who have been taken from their parents’ arms, we know intimately how mutually life-sustaining our bonds with our children are. The devastating effects that family separation has on young children is well proven. The trauma of the abrupt loss of their caregiver, especially in the circumstances in which it has been carried out, can interrupt normal brain development through the release of toxic levels of stress hormones with lifelong, significant brain altering effects. In addition, the circumstances of deprivation in which they are held also interrupts basic social and physical development, a problem unresolved whatsoever by detaining whole families instead. Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that these effects are lifelong and “catastrophic” [1]. As such, we stand with the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association in affirmation that family separation is dangerous, abusive, and intolerable and must end immediately [2], and we demand the release of detained families.

The unnecessary and forced separation of children from their parents for political aims or financial interests is morally reprehensible, cruel, and inexcusable, and has served as the hallmark of some of the most deplorable events of human history–a feature, for example, of chattel slavery, Nazi concentration camps and Japanese internment camps, and Native American “re-education” institutions that sought to “assimilate” native Americans through cultural annihilation. This practice does not only dehumanize the families it targets, it also erodes the humanity of those positioned to carry out the policy–the officer who rips a breastfeeding child away from her mother [3]–as well as all of us who bear witness to it and in whose name it is ostensibly carried out. Furthermore, with the recent news that up to 81 children who were forcibly separated from their parents are now in the custody of the adoption and foster services agency, Bethany Christian Services, we renounce any potential attempts to process adoptions of these children as they were not relinquished by their parents but taken from them without their consent. Any attempts to process their adoption amounts to child trafficking. We can–and must–oppose the practice of forcible family separation and the indefinite detention of children, wherever and however we are in a position to do so, as some have already done [4].

Moreover, we reject the premise that family separation or detention is necessary, justifiable, or in any way shape or form “deserved.” Jailing families and children is neither a solution nor inevitable when there is a process in place for processing asylum requests.[5] Attempts by the Trump administration to externalize or reject responsibility (i.e. pointing fingers at Congress or Democrats) are not only inaccurate [6], they further delay action and increase the trauma experienced by these children. We also reject the false blame upon parents fleeing conditions that increasingly constrain their basic safety and that of their children, especially in light of American complicity in generating and sustaining spiking violence in Central America. The Trump administration, who ordered these separations, is responsible for the current separations, and has the authority, capacity, and duty to end the reprehensible practices of BOTH separating and detaining children and to reunite children with their families.

We call upon our UCI community and families in academia to stand with us in refusing the degradation of our common humanity and the abuse of children by raising your voices in opposition to these policies. For example, you may state your opposition by calling the DOJ comment line at 202-353-1555 and leaving a message about why you oppose current immigration policies.

Another way to lend immediate support to separated families and children is by making a donation to RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. 100% of donations made to the RAICES bond fund will go towards the release of parents so that they may claim and be reunited with their children. You can make a donation directly here: Please note that this need will remain despite any reversal in this policy in order to assist in the prompt reunions for families who have already been separated.

We know that many of us struggle with making our own ends meet financially, but we believe that this is an extreme and urgent circumstance in which we are compelled to act, and that in this way we can make a significant difference. Donations to the RAICES bond fund: If those of us within our UCI community each give even a modest amount ($10, $25, $50, $100), we can help reunite several families.
1. Wan, William. 2018. “What Separation from Parents Does to Children: ‘The Effect Is Catastrophic.’” Washington Post, June 18, 2018, sec. Health & Science.
2. Wise, Justin. 2018. “American Academy of Pediatrics President: Trump Family Separation Policy Is ‘Child Abuse.’” Text. TheHill. June 18, 2018.
3. “Undocumented Mom: Child Taken While Breastfeeding.” n.d. MSN. Accessed June 20, 2018.
4. Baker, Sinéad. n.d. “11 States Are Pulling National Guard Troops from the US-Mexico Border in a Growing Protest over Trump’s Family-Separation Policy.” Business Insider. Accessed June 20, 2018.
5. Irwin, Richard. 2018. “Trump Executive Order Makes Border Crisis Worse.” National Immigration Law Center (blog). June 20, 2018.
6. Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. 2018. “Trump Again Falsely Blames Democrats for His Separation Tactic.” The New York Times, June 17, 2018, sec. U.S.

Please direct any questions about this statement to Annie Wilkinson (, Anna Kamanzi (, Angela Okune (, or Shannon Bae (

***The list of signatories will be updated at least once every 24hrs. We call on all interested persons affiliated with the University of California to sign this statement in support. Please sign only once.****

To sign or view signatories, please visit:

Musings of a #PhDMama

From time to time, I expect to reflect via this blog on the experience of being a mother and PhD student (which comes first..?). I found out I was going to be a (first-time) mother on a long 17 hour layover in the Singapore airport from Japan en route back to my home in Nairobi. I sent a whatsapp image of the pregnancy test results to my husband who was just waking up in Nairobi. “Have you seen the picture I sent you?!” I asked him on Skype via the airport WiFi. He hadn’t and as soon as he did, as he recalls, he started running / pacing around the house (he’s an Enneagram type 5 / INTJ ; those of you who are into that might get a better sense of him :). Meanwhile, I was frantically googling… “starting PhD while pregnant?” “PhD while pregnant?” Surprisingly (and of not much consolation while I was in SIN), there is little information out there other than one or two forum posts and a couple of books. And many were from students in the “hard” sciences which I found hard to relate to… Why don’t social science mamas talk about their experiences more?

Long story short (I’m sure I’ll reflect more down memory lane in future posts), husband and I (and 6 suitcases filled to the brim) moved across the Atlantic ocean from Nairobi, Kenya to Irvine, California (USA) while I was 17 weeks pregnant.

I started the PhD program around 21 weeks pregnant and finished my first quarter nearing to pop. My son was born on December 30, 2015 and I continued the next quarter on January 4, 2016 with the rest of my cohort. Interestingly (and unpremeditated), I took my first feminist theory class that quarter, my first quarter as a PhDMama…

Not only is the experience of growing into motherhood one that is in and of itself interesting to reflect on, witnessing and guiding my very special little child on his own journey of life has and continues to be full of learning/teaching moments for us both.

My son, I’ll refer to him as DD, is an embodiment of the complex questions I have about identity and culture. As a mixed race child of parents from widely different backgrounds, figuring out what to explicitly teach him about himself, his cultures, and the world(s) is quite a trip. As a student of anthropology I think I am especially aware of how he is being socialized by me and everything/one around him. Being with him teaches me even more about what it means to do research because he is researching every day/every moment! Ethnographers are constantly trying to relearn the world and “make the familiar strange and the strange familiar” but in some ways, these methods expect one to have already a particular pre-formed worldview (that is shaped by our sociocultural and material environment, among other things). But being with my son (almost 21 months), lets me see what it is like when one *doesn’t* have a pre-formed worldview. In other words, having a first-hand look at the first-time formation of one’s perspective from a “blank slate” if you will…

Observing my son observing the world around him makes me reflect on how humans develop awareness of ourselves and the world. With Dedan traveling and developing strong social and linguistic ties around the world [we are (trying!) to teach him Japanese, Kiswahili and English], I am so curious about the shaping of his future perspective (and what that will mean for him if he, say becomes an anthropologist).

It’s 1 AM and this #PhDMama needs to sleep because my ever reliable alarm clock, aka DD, will be awake in 4 hours!