America’s Humanitarian Disgrace

While much of the media was focused on the primary elections and the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles snubbing the White House, cable news was also reporting on the Trump administrations policy on separating children, even infants and toddlers, from their families as they seek asylum at the US southern border. US Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions callously defended the policy that was instituted in May stating that “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.” Sessions cruel statement came two days after Senator Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was denied access to a detention center in Brownsville, Texas where hundreds of immigrant children are currently being held. At another center, Merkley described conditions with children in cages made out of fencing and wire and nets stretched across the top of them so people can’t climb out. There were no bed and the children are forced to sleep on concrete floors with just thin mylar “space blankets” for warmth.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein strongly criticized this inhumane policy in this report

We are deeply concerned that the zero tolerance policy recently put in place along the US southern border has led to people caught entering the country irregularly being subjected to criminal prosecution and having their children – including extremely young children -taken away from them as a result.

The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child. While the rights of children are generally held in high regard in the US, it is the only country in the world not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We encourage it to accede to the Convention and to fully respect the rights of all children.

The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns. It is therefore of great concern that in the US migration control appears to have been prioritised over the effective care and protection of migrant children.

Children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents’ migration status. Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.

Information from various sources suggests that several hundred children have been separated from their families since last October. The practice of separating children from their parents is being applied to both asylum-seekers and other migrants in vulnerable situations, and we note that the American Civil Liberties Union has brought a class action case on behalf of hundreds of parents who have been forcibly separated from their children.

The majority of people arriving at the U.S.’s southern border have fled Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – in many cases either because of rampant insecurity and violence, or because of violations of a range of other rights, such as health, education, and housing.

The US should immediately halt this practice of separating families and stop criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offence – that of irregular entry or stay in the US.

We call on the US authorities to adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life.

What Heather Digby Parton said at Salon:

It is not a crime to appear at the U.S. border and seek asylum. Yet people who do that are essentially being treated exactly the same as people who have crossed the border illegally simply to seek work. Neither of these categories should be prosecuted as criminals, but the former are especially vulnerable people, often women with their kids, trying to escape violence and keep their families out of the line of fire. They are allowed by law to have a fair hearing of their asylum application and they are not getting it. [..]

The whole point of this is to make examples of these mothers and children and to deter asylum-seekers from even attempting to come here. And this is in spite of both domestic and international laws governing the rights of refugees. Apparently, those laws are no longer operative in the United States.

Trump always said, “I will be very tough on families,” but I think everyone assumed he just meant that to apply to families of suspected terrorists — not that that makes such a policy any less grotesque and immoral. It appears that he meant it as a broad-based deterrent to be used against all people he sees as enemies of the state. He now has administrators, prosecutors and an armed force eager to carry it out.

America’s borders have officially become a cruel, dystopian nightmare for immigrants and refugees. The president and his supporters couldn’t be happier.