Human Rights

UN human rights office calls on Trump administration to stop separating immigrant families

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United Nations

Alexandros Michailidis /

The office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights has called on the United States to immediately stop its practice of separating families at the border, calling it “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

“The child’s best interest should always come first,” says the statement, attributed to office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani. “It is therefore of great concern that in the U.S., migration control appears to have been prioritized over the effective care and protection of migrant children.”

According to the Associated Press, Shamdasani spoke about the matter at a press conference in Geneva, saying “there is nothing normal about detaining children.”

The statement condemned the “zero tolerance” policy instituted in early May by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which calls for prosecution of as many illegal entry cases “as humanly possible.” However, the U.N. noted that the separation policy has been applied to asylum seekers as well as people accused of misdemeanor or felony illegal entry. It notes that the majority of the people subjected to this policy came from Central American countries “because of rampant insecurity and violence” or violations of other rights. The treatment of, and legal process for, asylum seekers is governed by a U.N. protocol.

It also appears to call for an end to illegal entry prosecutions altogether.

“The U.S. should immediately halt this practice of separating families and stop criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offense—that of irregular entry or stay in the U.S.,” the statement says. “We call on the U.S. authorities to adopt noncustodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families.”

The statement notes that the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the practice through a proposed class action lawsuit. That case, Ms. L v. ICE, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California; Slate reports that a request for a preliminary injunction is pending. As The Hill reported last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, has announced that she is drafting legislation to stop family separations.

The strongly worded statement comes about a week after ABA President Hilarie Bass issued a statement saying that family separations should be stopped immediately because it “violates basic standards of human decency” and is “unnecessarily cruel.” Her statement also noted that the family separation policy is likely to overwhelm the resources of immigration courts, in which minors who can’t find pro bono help must represent themselves.

The UN statement also condemned the Egyptian government’s practice of arresting its critics and praised the Ethiopian government for releasing political prisoners.

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