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U.S. Policy on Immigrant Children Violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

A Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned while attempting to seek asylum in the United States are the latest victims of a policy that has cost the lives and seriously affected the health of hundreds of people, most of them children. Children have been separated from their parents and kept in steel cages, a brutal aggression against those most vulnerable.

The mistreatment of children and the separation from their parents violates basic tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an internationally recognized agreement 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 yet. Both the Ronald Reagan and the George H.W. Bush administrations played an important role in drafting the treaty, which was signed by the US government in 1995, indicating the nation’s intent to consider ratification.

The next step, so far unfulfilled by the US, is for the President and his advisors to draft a Statement of Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations to be presented to the Senate for its “advice and consent.” Upon Senate approval by a two-thirds majority, the treaty goes back to the President for ratification.

The Convention calls for children to be free from violence and abuse, and compels governments to provide them adequate nutrition and health care. It also demands that children receive equal treatment regardless of gender, race or cultural background, and have the right to express their opinions and have freedom of thought in matters affecting them. Further, it addresses the rights of children with disabilities.

In addition, the CRC emphasizes the primacy and importance of the role, authority, and responsibility of parents and family and is consistent with the principles contained in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Ratification of the convention has been endorsed by about a hundred organizations in the US, among them the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Baptist Churches, the American Bar Association, the National Education Association, and the Child Welfare League of America.

Given this level of endorsements, why hasn’t the U.S. ratified the CRC? The convention has found a notable degree of opposition within the Senate and in the public, in part from a number of religious groups, as well as among those who claim it conflicts with the US Constitution.

Several among these have portrayed the Convention as a threat to national sovereignty, states’ rights, the child-parent relationship, and parental rights. However, Lawrence S. Wittner, a Professor of History emeritus at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany has indicated that although some current US laws clash with the Convention’s child protection features, most US laws are in line with the Convention.

Regarding the claim that the Convention can override the US Constitution, the Supremacy Law of that Constitution establishes no treaty can override it. In addition, the Convention does not grant any international body enforcement authority over the US or its citizens, but only obligates the parties to the Convention to submit periodic reports regarding progress on the provisions of the treaty.

The Trump administration policy on immigrant children not only does a disservice to children trying to come into the U.S. It hurts the reputation of the U.S. and its system of justice in the world.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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