UN Human Rights Office condemns U.S. separation of immigrant children and parents

June 7, 2018

The current policy in the United States of separating “extremely young children” from their asylum-seeker or migrant parents along the country’s southern border “always constitutes a child rights violation,” the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), said on June 5.

Since last October, “several hundred” youngsters —including a 12-month-old infant— have been separated from their families while their parents serve out prison sentences for entering the U.S. illegally, or wait in detention while their asylum claims are processed, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland..

She said OHCHR had received information on cases dating from last October; although the policy had begun in January 2017 when the newly inaugurated president, Donald Trump, issued two executive orders related to migration.

The current separation of children “was a direct consequence of that decision,” Shamdasani said, adding that the policy is applied to asylum-seekers and other migrants “in vulnerable situations.” She noted that a class action has been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of hundreds of parents—mainly from Central and Latin American countries—who have been separated from their children.

Shamdasani noted that there is “nothing normal about detaining children”, and that it “… is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation”.

And on the legal issue of entering a country “without the right papers”, the UN human rights office spokesperson insisted that it should not be a criminal offence and “does not warrant jailing children”.

Once separated from their parents, Shamdasani said that children are often transferred into the care of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, and that efforts are made to find them a temporary guardian. When their parents are released, youngsters are reunited with them and deported back to their country of origin. For the majority this means to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where “rampant insecurity and violence” has forced them to flee, she explained.

In a call for an end to the practice, Shamdasani noted that the United States “generally held in high regard” the rights of children.

And although it is the only UN Member State not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it had signed the international accord and ratified others, which meant that it had legal obligations to children in its car, the OHCHR spokesperson explained.

For its own part, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says 700 children have been separated from their parents since the fiscal year began last October. In making the case for the program early last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” NBC News reported. Sessions added, “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

Administration officials explained that the goal of the program is 100% prosecution of all who enter the U.S. illegally. When adults are prosecuted and jailed, their children will be separated from them, just as would happen for a U.S. citizen convicted and jailed.

President Trump, himself, has said that the Democrats are to blame, because they will not fund his wall at the southern border.

Based on findings of an Ipsos poll conducted in February, fewer than one in five Democrats (18%) support building a wall or fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, while two-thirds of Republicans (68%) support the measure. A majority of Republicans (63%) also support a movement to end the ability of legal immigrants to bring extended family members to the United States compared to 30% of Democrats and 49% of Independents.

Notably, two-thirds of all Americans (65%) support giving legal status to undocumented or illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, although partisan differences are still evident. Half of Republicans (51%) support this plan, along with two-thirds of Independents, and 81% of Democrats.

Research contact: @ipsosus

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