UUSC decries the new front opened in the Trump administration’s continued assault on immigrant families, as senior officials threatened the use of criminal proceedings and family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Coming less than a week before Mother’s Day, the administration’s move is distinctly heartless. These policies will re-traumatize families who have made harrowing journeys across borders in the hope of finding safety – in many cases fleeing violence and instability in their home countries to which U.S. foreign policy has contributed.
In two speeches yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid out the White House’s plan to prosecute migrants and asylum-seekers who cross the border without prior authorization. His remarks acknowledged the effect of this policy is to separate children from parents. A further result will be to criminally charge and imprison asylum-seekers – regardless of any lawful claims to international protection.
Sessions’ announcement formalizes practices that have already become routine at parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. A recent report by Human Rights First found that between April 2017 and January 2018, the Trump administration used criminal prosecutions regularly against asylum-seekers, in many instances resulting in family separation. The New York Times likewise found 700 cases of children being separated from adults at the border since October 2017.
These cruel practices have recently come under legal scrutiny. On March 9, 2018 the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants and asylum-seekers who had been separated from their children or parents by U.S. authorities. UUSC’s longtime partner, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), who represent immigrants in family detention, submitted evidence to support the case.
Additionally, the administration’s plan also directly contravenes human rights under international and U.S. standards. The 1967 Protocol to the UN Refugee Convention – of which the United States is a party – forbids prosecuting asylum-seekers for unauthorized border crossing, out of a recognition that people fleeing danger often do not have a choice about when and how they enter national boundaries. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 likewise extended the right to petition for asylum to anyone in the United States, regardless of how they entered.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guides UUSC’s work, enshrines the right to family unity as a bedrock principle of the global community. Article 16 reads in part: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
By willfully violating these human rights, the Trump administration continues its disgraceful record of denying lawful protection and humane treatment to people at risk. The negative consequences of these actions will be far-reaching.
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, however, we are reminded that love is a powerful force too. We witness this in the strength of immigrant families, the resilience of people who risk their lives for their loved ones, and the courage of those who defy injustice. UUSC will continue to celebrate those ideals and work with our partners to defend and expand the rights of asylum-seekers and protect families fleeing danger.