Urgent Action Needed as Administration Doubles Down on the Humanitarian Crisis that Victimizes Children and Families in Search of Safety
By Laura Peters, Legislative Coordinator, Maryland
Despite Secretary Nielson’s resignation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last month the horrendous family separation policy continues unabated. As Newsweek’s reporting has established six children have now died in US custody since Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy was implemented in contrast to no reported fatalities in the last two decades. Instead of rethinking the policy, President Trump is preparing to give the policy a more inhumane tweak. The administration now wants to offer families a “binary choice” — either you give your children up by sending them to a separate facility or waive your children’s rights and be sent to jail with them. As Taylor Levy, an immigration lawyer, recently argued in the Washington Post, “A choice between family separation and family detention is not a choice at all. As cruel as separation is, children simply do not belong in prison.” Despite the fact that in June of last year a federal judge in California halted family separations, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services reported that thousands more families might have been separated than previously reported. Levy argues that it’s “unfathomable that — as the first anniversary of Trump’s Executive Order, which supposedly ended family separations, approaches — the same administration is considering circumventing the will of the courts and disregarding the will of the people by re-implementing this horrific practice.”
We need to work on at least three fronts to confront this humanitarian disaster and this indelible stain on the United States’ long-standing claim that it is a leading upholder of human rights. First is to educate the public that children who cross the have a human right not to be separated from their parents. Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the US is a party, states that “family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” The second is to continue to work, as Blake highlights, to provide more enforcement mechanisms to foundational moral precepts enshrined in international law so we can protect children’s rights. A third effort is to continue to pressure Congress to continue to ask the administration such key questions as:
● What happened to the more than 1,400 children separated from their families that DHS has not accounted for?
● Is the Department still contracting with private companies accused of sexual and physical abuse in their facilities? As an NBC report pointed out within the last year, the DHS Office of Inspector General has issued three reports finding poor treatment and spotty oversight in ICE facilities and that 22 people have died in ICE custody since Trump took office.
● A full accounting of the record of abuses in ICE custody needs to be brought to light. Last year, according to ACLU reporting, ICE requested permission from the National Archives to destroy “11 kinds of records, including those related to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and even deaths of people in its custody.”
● Congress needs to support alternatives to detention programs, which are more cost effective and more humane. As the Lutheran Social Services research has revealed, these alternatives cost pennies on the dollar when compared to the billions of dollars wasted by ICE detention facilities. They also have the advantage of treating people seeking a better life as human beings.
We can no longer afford to stand by while this man-made humanitarian crisis continues and the stain on the United States’ human rights record continues to grow. We are all called on to take action to defend and protect children’s lives and uphold international law.