May 31, 2018 – Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is appealing to the Trump administration to immediately begin honoring its legal obligation to reunite immigrant children with their families and to end its policy of forcible separation. Recent reports that over 1,000 immigrant children are unaccounted for, together with an announcement earlier this month by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Justice Department will ramp up its prosecutions of immigrants crossing the southwest border, separating all parents from their children, are deeply alarming. This new policy will undoubtedly result in a dramatic increase in the number of children who are taken from their families upon arrival in the United States, and will not serve as a deterrent for families fleeing countries where they face persecution.
PHR’s executive director, Donna McKay, says no-one should turn a blind eye to the trauma that children endure under this inhumane policy.
“Families belong together. We must remember to always take into account the best interests of the child when policies are created or amended. Children deserve complete protection and full humanitarian assistance, under all circumstances. It is our moral obligation. PHR and its partners conduct hundreds of physical and psychological assessments each year on behalf of immigrants who have been subjected to arrest and detention at the U.S.-Mexico border. Among those whom we evaluate we see children who are traumatized and scarred by neglect and abuse. Forced family separation can have further adverse consequences on a child’s mental and emotional state, which can have long-lasting effects,” McKay says.
Kathryn Hampton, PHR’s asylum network program officer, reiterates that forcibly splitting children from their families not only violates international and domestic legal standards, but also goes against all ethical and moral obligations to care for a child’s well-being.
“The recent policy change announced by Sessions unfairly characterizes those fleeing persecution as dangerous offenders. It further labels parents who bring their children to the United States in search of a better future as criminal smugglers. Family unity is an essential human right under refugee law and migration law. It is unacceptable to stand by and watch as children are torn away from their mothers or fathers under the false narrative that it will deter criminals from illegally seeking entry into the United States. The policy will only incentivize desperate families to send their children across the border unaccompanied – a cruel, but inevitable reality,” Hampton explains.
PHR calls on the Trump administration to ensure that every child, regardless of country of origin, and regardless of reason for seeking asylum, is treated with dignity and with care. Additionally, authorities must properly track the custody and subsequent movements of all minors who pass through the U.S. immigration system, and ensure that no child goes missing, or is left unaccounted for.
Read more about PHR’s Asylum Program.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.