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People who have been taken into custody over illegal entry into the US at a facility in Texas on June 17
People who have been taken into custody over illegal entry into the US at a facility in Texas on June 17

US Policy on Migrant Minors Outrageous

The UN human rights chief says it is unconscionable that any country would seek to deter parents from migrating by inflicting such abuse on children
Nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy, which directs Homeland Security officials to refer all cases of illegal entry into the United States for prosecution. Church groups and hum

US Policy on Migrant Minors Outrageous

The UN human rights chief is urging the Trump administration to end new policies separating migrant children from their parents after entering the United States from Mexico, saying they have affected nearly 2,000 kids in the last six weeks.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein says it is “unconscionable” that any country would seek to deter parents from migrating “by inflicting such abuse on children,” AP reported.

He spoke at Monday’s opening of a regular Human Rights Council session, his last before his term ends in August.

  Hundreds Caged

Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.

One teenager told an advocate who visited that she was helping care for a young child she did not know because the child’s aunt was somewhere else in the facility. She said she had to show others in her cell how to change the girl’s diaper.

The US Border Patrol on Sunday allowed reporters to briefly visit the facility where it holds families arrested at the southern US border, responding to new criticism and protests over US President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy and resulting separation of families.

More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. The cages in each wing open out into common areas to use portable restrooms. The overhead lighting in the warehouse stays on around the clock.

The Border Patrol said close to 200 people inside the facility were minors unaccompanied by a parent. Another 500 were “family units,” parents and children. Many adults who crossed the border without legal permission could be charged with illegal entry and placed in jail, away from their children.

Reporters were not allowed by agents to interview any of the detainees or take photos.

  Inhumane Policy

Nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy, which directs Homeland Security officials to refer all cases of illegal entry into the United States for prosecution. Church groups and human rights advocates have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane.

Stories have spread of children being torn from their parents’ arms, and parents not being able to find where their kids have gone. A group of congressional lawmakers visited the same facility Sunday and were set to visit a longer-term shelter holding around 1,500 children—many of whom were separated from their parents.

“Those kids inside who have been separated from their parents are already being traumatized,” said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who was denied entry earlier this month to children’s shelter. “It doesn’t matter whether the floor is swept and the bedsheets tucked in tight.”

In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for people trying to enter the US, Border Patrol officials argue that they have to crack down on migrants and separate adults from children as a deterrent to others.

Agents running the holding facility—generally known as “Ursula” for the name of the street it’s on—said everyone detained is given adequate food, access to showers and laundered clothes, and medical care.

People are supposed to move through the facility quickly. Under US law, children are required to be turned over within three days to shelters funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.

  Overwhelming Stress

Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that she visited a small shelter in Texas recently, which she declined to identify. A toddler inside the 60-bed facility caught her eye—she was crying uncontrollably and pounding her little fists on mat.

Staff members tried to console the child, who looked to be about 2 years old, Kraft said. She had been taken from her mother the night before and brought to the shelter.

The staff gave her books and toys—but they weren’t allowed to pick her up, to hold her or hug her to try to calm her. As a rule, staff are not allowed to touch the children there, she said.

“The stress is overwhelming,” she said. “The focus needs to be on the welfare of these children, absent of politics.”

  Rallies Against Trump’s Policy

Democratic lawmakers joined protesters outside immigration detention facilities in New Jersey and Texas on Sunday for Father’s Day demonstrations against the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border, Reuters reported.

“This must not be who we are as a nation,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler, one of seven members of Congress from New York and New Jersey who met with five detainees inside a facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, including three who said they had young relatives removed from their care after seeking asylum at the border.

The events came as news stories highlighting the family separations intensified political pressure on the White House, even from some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans.

Administration officials have defended the tactic as necessary to secure the border and suggested it would act as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

But the policy has drawn condemnation from medical professionals, religious leaders and immigration activists, who warn that some children could suffer lasting psychological trauma. The children are held in government facilities, released to adult sponsors or placed in temporary foster care.

Even some moderate Republicans have called on Trump to stop the separations. Senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake wrote to White House officials on Saturday seeking more information on the policy.

Democrats have accused the president of effectively turning the children into political hostages to secure stricter immigration measures, such as funding for a US-Mexico border wall.

“Stop lying to the American people. This is your policy,” Democratic US Representative Hakeem Jeffries said in New Jersey.

 

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