USA: Routine separation of asylum-seeking families violates international law

The US government must stop separating asylum-seeking parents from their children and denying them access to asylum procedures through prolonged detention, said Amnesty International today in response to reports of the US Department of Homeland Security’s adoption of a draconian family separation policy that will apply to anyone who presents themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. The policy was also referenced today in remarks by Attorney General Sessions.

“The idea that children can be protected by tearing them away from their families defies all sense of logic and humanity,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “These are children who have already suffered the trauma of violence and persecution in their native countries and the arduous journey to seek safety. Why in the world would the US government institute a policy that would compound their distress by separating them from their families, claiming it’s for their own good? This is a monstrous policy that flies in the face of human rights, and should be rescinded immediately.”

The idea that children can be protected by tearing them away from their families defies all sense of logic and humanity
Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA

“Criminalizing and stigmatizing parents who are only trying to keep their children from harm and give them a safe upbringing will cause untold damage to thousands of traumatized families who have already given up everything to flee terrible circumstances in their home countries,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“Prying infant children from their parents’ arms as they seek asylum is a flagrant violation of their human rights. Doing so in order to push asylum seekers back into dangerous situations where they may face persecution is also a violation of US obligations under refugee law.”

Amnesty International has documented US immigration agents forcibly separating families of asylum seekers, even when they have proof of their family relationships and the persecution that they have fled. The long-term detention of asylum seekers is widely documented to negatively affect both their psychological well-being and their ability to lodge asylum claims under US law.

Criminalizing and stigmatizing parents who are only trying to keep their children from harm and give them a safe upbringing will cause untold damage to thousands of traumatized families
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

The attorney general has also implemented a broader policy that essentially treats all asylum seekers as criminals by prosecuting them in federal court and incarcerating them in federal prisons.

For additional background, see the June 2017 Amnesty International report, Facing Walls, which documents how US border authorities have routinely denied asylum seekers the ability to claim asylum at US ports of entry, resulting in greater irregular flows of asylum seekers across the US-Mexico border.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International campaigned to reunite four families separated from each other at the border in violation of existing Department of Homeland Security policy to keep families together. In addition to calling on DHS agencies to remedy these violations, Amnesty International asked its 7 million members, supporters and activists worldwide to take action on behalf of the families.

The call to action can be found here: https://www.amnestyusa.org/urgent-actions/urgent-action-border-officials-forcibly-separate-families-usa-ua-256-17/

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

In Mexico City, Duncan Tucker: +52 (1) 55-4848-8266; duncan.tucker@amnesty.org

In New York, Robyn Shepherd: media@aiusa.org