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The United Nations Human Rights Office is calling on the Trump administration to “immediately halt” its policy of separating children from their parents after crossing into the United States from Mexico. The office said in a statement that “children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents’ migration status. Detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.” The statement also called on the U.S to adopt “non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life.”
UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani scolded the U.S for its “zero tolerance” policy, in which some families have been separated after crossing the border. The Trump administration has increased security on the U.S-Mexico border and has vowed to prosecute refugees and migrants who attempt to cross it. “If you cross the border unlawfully .. then we will prosecute you,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said earlier this month. “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. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
On Tuesday, Shamdasani said that the practice of separating families amounted to an “arbitrary and unlawful” interference in family life, calling it a “serious violation” of the rights of children, the Associated Press reported. The United States is the only UN member not to have ratified the “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” but it has ratified similar conventions, which means the country still has legal obligations to the children in “its care,” explained Shamdasani.
In the past year, hundreds of children have been separated from their parents after the crossing. Thousands of more children have been detained after entering the U.S alone. Officials say that nearly 1,500 children who arrived at the border by themselves are unaccounted for, as reported by the New York Times. The scale of those numbers has sparked concern that some of the children may have ended up in the hands of human traffickers.
The policy coming from the Trump administration marks a break with the previous precedent, which allowed families to stay together pending deportation. Politicians from the opposition Democratic party have called Trump’s policy “most inhumane” and “cruel.”