The United Nations is urging the United States to end its policy of separating asylum-seeking families at the southern border.
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office, said Tuesday that she had received information from U.S. civil society groups that indicated several hundred children had been separated from their parents at the border since October.
“The United States should immediately halt this practice,” she 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.”
She added, “The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles.”
Shamdasani instead encouraged the United States to adopt “non-custodial alternatives” that would allow children to remain with their families.
The message comes just two days after Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) was denied access to a detention center in Brownsville, Texas where hundreds of immigrant children are currently being held in what Merkley described as “like dog kennels.” Merkley, who was there to see the living conditions for himself, said officials barred him from entering the facility and called the police on him instead.
“The front doors were locked and blacked out,” he tweeted later. “What are they hiding about the conditions these innocent children are being held in?”
When I visited an immigration detention center housing the children separated from their families, I was barred entry & the police were called on me. The front doors were locked and blacked out. What are they hiding about the conditions these innocent children are being held in? pic.twitter.com/LkEbAYAbcm
— Jeff Merkley (@JeffMerkley) June 4, 2018
The increase in family separations at the border has resulted in border agents claiming they are running out of space to hold all of the children.
According to a document obtained by NBC News, nearly 300 of the 550 children currently in custody at U.S. border stations had spent more than the time limit of 72 hours allowed for immigrants of any age to be held in the government’s temporary facilities. Almost half of those 300 children are younger than 12.
Border stations are only intended to be a first stop for immigrants detained at the border, with many spending less than three days there. Because of their temporary nature, many stations often lack adequate bedding and sleeping room.
The overcrowding and overstays at border stations are a result of a growing backlog at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency responsible for providing shelter to migrant children and placing them with family members living in the United States or approved sponsors. Currently there are 11,200 accompanied children in the care of the agency’s Administration for Children and Families. It takes roughly 45 days for a child to be placed with a sponsor, a spokesperson told NBC.
In a Tuesday morning tweet, President Donald Trump insisted that the draconian policy of separating immigrant families at the border was instead “the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats.”
Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can’t get their act together! Started the Wall.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2018
There is, however, no legislation requiring the Trump administration to separate families. The policy was instituted as part of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” approach to immigration spearheaded by the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly. Kelly claimed the policy would serve as a deterrent to those looking to enter the country unlawfully.