U.N. Issues Sharp Rebuke to Trump Administration's 'Unlawful' Family Separations

The United Nations Human Rights Office has rebuked the U.S. over Trump administration policy tearing children from the arms of parents at the U.S./Mexico border, writing that “detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation” and calling on administration officials to “immediately halt” the “arbitrary and unlawful” policy that has resulted in as many as 66 kids being separated from their families every single day.

“The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights. “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.”

The U.N. noted that the administration is also detaining children who arrived with their parents at U.S. ports of entry to petition asylum, which is legal under U.S. law. “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.”

In one instance that resulted in lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), officials separated a Congolese asylum-seeker and her young daughter despite passing their initial interview. “When the officers separated them,” the ACLU said at the time, “Ms. L. could hear her daughter in the next room screaming that she did not want to be taken away from her mother.” 

A coalition of immigrant rights advocates and civil rights groups have also filed a petition accusing “the United States of human rights violations in an official complaint filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.” One petitioner said that “toying with the lives of people fleeing violence to send a message is not only cruel, but also a violation of international human rights and conventions to which the United States is a party”:

“In one particularly chilling example, immigration agents told two immigrant mothers that they were taking their daughters away to the bath — but they never returned, and the mothers have not seen them since,” the attorneys and advocates said in the petition.

The petitioners complained in the request that dozens of minor children have been taken from their parents in the last month. In addition, parents and attorneys haven’t been told where the children are or whether parents and children will be reunited.

Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities for immigrant children are reportedly nearing capacity, with NBC News reporting that children are being held in U.S. border stations for longer than 72 hours maximum allowed. These facilities, which are supposed to be temporary before being moved to an ORR facility, “often lack adequate bedding or separate sleeping rooms for children,” which means that kids may be housed with adults.

This is a moral failure on the part of our government, recognized by the U.N. in more ways than one: the U.N. statement condemning the U.S. for separating families also includes statements on two other nations, Egypt and Ethiopia, regarding their detention of political detainees and bloggers. This is truly a shameful moment for the United States of America.

“The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life,” the U.N. continued, “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.” 

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