If the United Nations is right, the Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents could be illegal.
In announcement made Tuesday, the agency’s human rights organization condemned the practice as a violation of international law. Washington responded almost immediately, accusing the U.N. of ignorance and hypocrisy.
Nevertheless, the controversial practice has been touted by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions as an effective deterrent—despite widespread criticism from immigration advocates and non-governmental organizations.
United Nations spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the policy has “led to people caught entering the country irregularly being subjected to criminal prosecution and having their children—including extremely young children—taken away from them as a result.” Referencing information reportedly received from U.S. civil rights groups, Shamdasani claimed several hundred children had been taken from their parents at the border since October.
Some of the children, writes The Guardian, were as young as a year old.
“The U.S. should immediately halt this practice,” Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva. “The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.
“The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles,” she said.
Shamdasani, reports The Guardian, acknowledged that the United States tends to hold the rights of children in high regard—making it paradoxical that Washington is the only country in the world not to have ratified a United Nations accord codifying certain international protections for minors.
No matter what efforts the United States has made to combat child abuse and exploitation, Shamdasani says its immigration practices flout human rights laws.
“The child’s best interests should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns,” she said.
“It is therefore of great concern that in the U.S., migration control appears to have been prioritized over the effective care and protection of migrant children.”
“Detention,” said Shamdasani, “is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation.”
Since May, the Trump administration has defended its policies from detractors inside the United States and without. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions maintains that, while breaking up migrant families isn’t an aim for law enforcement, it is an expected consequence of crossing onto American soil without authorization.
Sessions has also referred to migrant parents attempting to take their children over the U.S.-Mexico border as ‘smugglers’—and promised prosecution for any caught in the act.
Rather than addressing the United Nations’ allegations head-on, the Trump administration opted for ad-hominem attacks on the organization—suggesting that America’s robust foreign aid programs says enough about the administration’s priorities.
“Once again, the United Nations shows its hypocrisy by calling out the United States while it ignores the reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council,” said U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. “While the High Commissioner’s office ignorantly attacks the United Stats with words, the United States leads the world with its actions, like providing more humanitarian assistance to global conflicts than any other nation.”
Asked in Geneva to explain comments from senior U.S. officials about the widespread practice of separating children and parents in custody, Shamdasani said, “There is nothing normal about detaining children.”