After enacting a “zero tolerance” policy towards all adult immigrants crossing the border into the U.S., in effect separating parents from their children and keeping the children in inhumane conditions, the Trump administration now intends to rescind this measure. However, because some family records have been lost or destroyed, some children may never again be reunited with their parents.
The separation of children from their parents violates basic tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an internationally recognized agreement among nations that establishes a comprehensive set of goals for individual nations to improve children’s lives. Although the convention has worldwide recognition and support, the U.S. is the only country in the world that hasn’t yet ratified the CRC.
Separating children from their parents was a cruel measure that elicited Ivanka Trump’s tweeted response: “Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border. Congress must now act + find a lasting solution that is consistent with our shared values; the same values that so many come here seeking as they endeavor to create a better life for their families.”
Trying to put a spin on a disgraceful decision is immoral, but not surprising in an administration for which morality in taking political decisions is of no concern. There are still 3,000 children separated from their parents, and 100 are under the age of 5, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Children and adolescents are kept in “cages”, a word disputed by the U.S. Border Patrol that says, in a statement, “It’s not inaccurate, but they are very ‘uncomfortable’ with this characterization.”
Anne Chandler, the executive director of the Houston office of the nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center said in an interview with Texas Monthly that she had heard accounts of children being separated from their parents reportedly to give them baths and never returning. When a parent asked about her child who was taken away for a bath she was told, “You won’t be seeing your child again.”
An insider’s view of the situation of children under detention was described in an article by Molly Hennessy-Fiske in the Los Angeles Times. She writes about Antar Davidson, an American of Brazilian descent who speaks Portuguese and who had been a youth care worker at the Tucson shelter Estrella del Norte. When three Brazilian children arrived at the center, officials told the siblings -aged 16, 10 and 6- that their parents were lost, which the children interpreted as dead.
When the 16-year old child ask Davidson about his parents, tears streaming down his face, Davidson decided to quit his job and speak about his experiences at the center in hopes of improving the system. He described the facility as understaffed and unequipped to deal with children going through difficult situations, as happened to the Brazilian children. “What was once a transient facility with a staff that was strained and struggling is now a permanent facility which is more prison-like,” he said.
The CRC calls for all children, including those with disabilities, to be free from violence and abuse, and compels governments to provide them with adequate nutrition and health care. The Convention also demands that children be equally and fairly treated regardless of gender, race or cultural background, have the right to express their opinions, and have freedom of thought in matters affecting them.
In addition, the CRC emphasizes the primacy and importance of the authority and responsibility of parents and family, and is consistent with the principles contained in the U.S. Bill of Rights. According to the Convention, children have the right to live with their parents unless it is not in their best interest.
Although the U.S. has not yet ratified it, the Trump administration is not legally bound by the tenets of the CRC to treat children in a humane way. It is bound by the rules of compassion and human decency.