Since early May, the Trump administration has separated over 658 children from their would-be-immigrant parents at the US border under its unjust and cruel new “zero tolerance” policy. This policy sends parents into detention and prosecutes them for the crime of entering the country illegally, while their children – including infants and toddlers – are taken into government custody separately and alone.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said separations would be a “tough deterrent” for hopeful immigrants coming to the United States. That’s a truly shocking statement. A practice of tearing children apart from their parents to keep other immigrants from coming is abusive and completely indefensible.
Defending the policy, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said that if families don’t want to be separated, they shouldn’t cross the border illegally. That’s a disingenuous argument. The US government has every right to police its borders, but it can’t blame families for the needless cruelty it has chosen to subject them to.
It’s important to remember that the families being pulled apart by the new “zero tolerance” push are not the only immigrants being treated this way. Immigrants who present themselves at a US border to claim asylum—something they have every right to do under US and international law—sometimes also have their children taken away from them. That’s because the government holds far too many asylum seekers in immigration detention while their claims are being processed. So these parents, who are following the law and trying to do everything right, are nevertheless torn apart from their children, potentially for months on end.
In one heart-wrenching account, a mother, Mirian, talks about how she was forced to place her 18-month old son in a car and watch him be driven away, screaming and crying. This mother did everything correctly—she presented herself at the border, told officials she was asking for asylum, and answered their questions. But she and her son were still separated for over two months.
Human Rights Watch is proud to co-sponsor today’s National Day of Action for Children. We call on the Trump administration to end its “zero tolerance” policy, and instead support sweeping changes that would minimize the detention of immigrants and asylum seekers, and the separation of families.