Open Americas Statement on Zero Tolerance Policy & Family Separation

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On Friday, April 6, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a memorandum the introduction of a zero tolerance policy for migrants who enter the United States without documentation.

Although there is no specific law that mandates family separation at the US-Mexico border, the separation of parents from children has occurred as parents who cross the United States’ southern border without documentation are prosecuted in criminal court for the misdemeanor of entering the country. Meanwhile, youths are referred to the Department of Health and Human Services, which in turn sends them to shelters or places them in the custody of sponsors.

Between May 5 and June 9, 2,342 children were separated from their parents at the border, according to the Trump administration.

There has been great public condemnation of the policy, with all four living former first ladies stating their opposition to it. Republicans and Democrats alike have also been vocal in their criticism. Responding to public outcry, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen called on Congress to “fix” the policy, negating the administration’s responsibility and complicity in family separation. “You do not need to break the law of the United States to seek asylum,” she stated. “We are a country of compassion. We are a country of heart.”

Open Americas does not believe that separating children from parents is compassionate. It is heartless.

Prior to the Trump administration, parents were rarely prosecuted and were instead held in family detention centers before deportation or immigration court dates. Due to this procedure, the government has been the target of sharp criticism from civil rights groups. Reports of utter chaos at the US-Mexico border, due to a lack of planning of the administration’s new enforcement policy, describe the emotional distress and suffering caused by family separation, at times done under false pretenses. Experts also highlight the psychological trauma of such separation. A ProPublica audio recording of a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol detention center captures the plaintive cries of a young boy repeatedly calling out for his mother amidst the frightened chatter of other children.

“Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is the conductor,” the border patrol agent says.

Trump’s politicization of current events further muddles the situation. The President has falsely claimed that “bad laws” made by Democrats are to blame for the separation of families. It should be known that the immediate prosecution of undocumented parents at the border is the creation of the Trump administration.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called for an immediate end to the practice of separating children from parents, arguing that the measures being taken at the border violate international law and children’s rights. However, the United States government announced its plan to exit from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Many immigrants making the journey north to the United States are fleeing violence, gang activity, political instability, and extreme poverty. In the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), the fear of remaining at home and facing violence at the hands of gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is often greater than the fear of risking a journey to a nation in which asylum claims are increasingly difficult – particularly with the recent decision by Attorney General Sessions, “Matter of A-B” – and immigration courts are encumbered by backlogs of immigration cases.

It is time to put an end to this cruel deterrence strategy that is not effectively securing the border and protecting citizens. It is time to put political differences aside to reform immigration practices. It is time be compassionate and to respect and advocate for the rights of migrants who have suffered in their home countries and while traveling north. It is time to have a heart.

Image: Pride Immigration