Immigration Law

Forcibly separating families 'violates basic standards of human decency,' ABA president says

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Child's hands gripping fence

Separating immigrant children from their parents at the southern border is "unnecessarily cruel" and the ABA "strongly opposes" the policy, ABA President Hilarie Bass said in a statement Wednesday. “Separating children from their parents not only violates due process, it is antithetical to the very human values on which this country was founded and sets a terrible example for the rest of the world,” the statement says. “It should be stopped immediately.”

Bass also notes that the policy has overwhelmed both the criminal justice system and the immigration courts. Children as young as toddlers are being forced to appear in immigration courts on their own, with no right to appointed counsel, Bass said. Children should stay with parents whenever possible and be kept in the least restrictive setting possible, the statement says.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy May 7, implying that such parents would be treated as human traffickers.

“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law,” he said at a speech in Scottsdale, Arizona. As the ABA Journal reported at the time, his prepared remarks did not include the word “probably.”

In fact, the Washington Post reports, advocates for immigrants say many of these families are asylum seekers, whose treatment is governed by federal law and international treaty.

To apply for asylum in the United States, a person must be physically in the United States or its territories, so crossing the border is a prerequisite. Non-citizens may file for asylum within one year of arriving in the country. Such people, with or without children, are generally interviewed about conditions in their home countries and either released or kept in custody pending an immigration court hearing.

According to the New York Times, the family separation policy was started months before the May 7 announcement and has resulted in at least 700 children being taken from their parents since October. That includes more than 100 children under the age of four. The American Civil Liberties Union is currently suing the Trump administration over the practice. That case, Ms. L v. ICE, concerns an asylum-seeking mother from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Immigrant Rights Project, echoed Bass’s condemnation in remarks to the ABA Journal.

“I have been doing immigration civil rights work for 25-plus years and this is the worst practice I’ve ever seen,” he says. “It is both illegal and inhumane to tear little children away from their parents. The children are literally screaming and begging not to be taken away.”

President Donald Trump tweeted last week that the family separation policy is a result of a “horrible law” passed by Democrats. In fact, as NBC reported, there is no such law and the policy is the work of Trump’s own administration. NBC says the family separation policy is a result of the Justice Department’s new policy of “zero tolerance” for immigrants who enter the United States without authorization, which is a misdemeanor on first offense.

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