USA: immigration policy of separating children from parents is 'spectacularly cruel'

'Migrant caravan' campaigners in Tijuana, Mexico earlier this year © Sergio Ortiz/Amnesty International

‘The US government is playing a sick game with these families’ lives’ - Erika Guevara-Rosas

The practice of separating child migrants from their parents and holding them in cages as a result of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ immigration policy is “spectacularly cruel”, said Amnesty International today. 

Since Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance policy for criminal illegal entry” on 6 April, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents or legal guardians at the US border.

Statistics obtained by news media suggest that thousands more migrant families may have been separated by the Trump administration even prior to this new policy.

However, contrary to Mr Sessions’ statements, Amnesty recently interviewed 17 asylum-seeking parents who were forcibly separated from their children, and all but three of them had entered the USA legally to request asylum. 

Children’s rights are violated in multiple ways though the policy, said Amnesty: they are detained, they are separated from their parents or guardians, and they are exposed to unnecessary trauma that might affect their development.

The Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has denied a policy of separating families is in place, but her statement from January this year confirms that the intention has been to target families: 

“We’re looking at a variety of ways to enforce our laws to discourage parents from bringing their children here.” Her predecessor John Kelly, now President Trump’s chief of staff, suggested the policy as early as March 2017 “in order to deter” families of migrants and asylum-seekers from coming to the USA.

Amnesty is calling on the administration to immediately put an end to this unnecessary, devastating and unlawful policy of forced separation, and to reunite families that have already been separated as quickly as possible. 

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said:

“This is a spectacularly cruel policy, where frightened children are being ripped from their parent’s arms and taken to overflowing detention centres, which are effectively cages.

“There is no question that President Trump’s administration’s policy of separating mothers and fathers from their children is designed to impose severe mental suffering on these families, in order to deter others from trying to seek safety in the USA. 

“Many of these families come from countries experiencing generalised violence and grave human rights violations, including Honduras and El Salvador. This is a flagrant violation of the human rights of these parents and children and is also a violation of US obligations under refugee law.

“This cruel and unnecessary practice is being inflicted not only on families crossing irregularly, but also on those seeking protection at ports of entry.

“The US government is playing a sick game with these families’ lives by playing politics with what is a serious and mounting refugee crisis.”

Research on the Mexico border

Amnesty International recently conducted research along the US border with Mexico. Its preliminary findings are that since 2017 the Department of Homeland Security is increasingly forcibly separating children from their parents or guardians when these families request asylum. Amnesty will be publishing its findings in a report later this year.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Amnesty campaigned to reunite four families separated from each other at the border.

View latest press releases