ResourcesPress Release

Family Separation is Cruel and Unnecessary

Physicians for Human Rights Calls for More Humane Child Policies at U.S. Borders

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the United Nations’ call for the United States to immediately end its policy of separating families after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. PHR reiterates that the Trump administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy, outlined recently by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, violates the fundamental right of family unity, protected as a constitutional right in the United States, a human right under international human rights law, and affirmed in international refugee law and migration law.

Kathryn Hampton, PHR’s Asylum Network program officer, said the safety of child immigrants needs to be the priority.

“Families are crossing the border to seek safety in the United States. They have the right under U.S. and international law to seek asylum if they have a credible fear of returning to their own country. Not only does this family separation policy violate rights, it is unnecessary and cruel. The United States must ensure that policies do not violate the rights of children and parents to be together,” Hampton said.

The aggressive U.S. policy was announced on May 7 and states that all those coming across the border with children will be prosecuted and separated from their children. It resulted in 658 children being separated from their parents within two weeks of the announcement, according to Customs and Border Protection information.

“The fact that many hundreds of children have already been removed from their parents – and this while in an extremely vulnerable state – is unconscionable,” Hampton said.

“PHR stands with the UN and its latest statement, which reaffirms international standards in border management that prohibit the separation and detention of children. Family unity is a fundamental tenet of refugee protection.

“Detailed standard operating procedures should be developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which keep families together. All agents should be trained in child protection standards, and child welfare professionals must be involved in developing and implementing, as well as evaluating, border management policies,” Hampton added.

PHR also calls on the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to exercise appropriate oversight of border enforcement policies which involve family separation and publicly report findings to Congress. An inter-agency mechanism between the DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services must be established in order to reunite separated family members without delay.

Medical research clearly shows that the trauma of family separation during migration increases the risk of serious psychological disorders for refugee children, while support of the family unit is a protective mitigating factor. Separation from parents has a negative impact on the cognitive and emotional functioning of children, which can continue into adulthood and contribute to lower academic achievement, attachment difficulties, and poor mental health.

PHR commends current legislative proposals pending in Congress which would end the practice of mandatory family separation, reunite families, and ensure humane border management policies.

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.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Deputy Director, Media & Communications1.917.679.0110

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