Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rules In Favor of Immigrants' Family Life Rights

In the past 10 years, more than 100,000 US children—all of them full-fledged citizens—have suffered the destabilizing effects of losing one or both parents to deportation. According to the American Psychological Association, children who lose a caretaker face notably heightened risk of psychological distress, developmental delay and poor physical health. Thanks to changes in US law that give less consideration than ever before to the health imperative of keeping parents and children together, an estimated 16 million American children who have at least one non-citizen parent are at risk. There is an opportunity to reverse these changes or mitigate their effect by passing the Child Citizen Protection Act, H.R. 182, and the HELP Separated Children Act, S.3522/H.R. 3531; for the time being, however, American families continue to be forced apart in great numbers by our immigration laws.Now, a commission has bolstered the case for legislative reform by finding that the failure to weigh society’s interest in protecting family unity against the government’s interest in deportation violates the US’ human rights treaty obligations. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, announced on August 2?its finding that current US deportation policy violates the human right of respect for family life (PDF). The case at hand involved two separate instances in which lawful permanent residents of the US—green card holders, in other words—were deported because of non-violent criminal convictions that had occurred decades earlier. The IACHR found that US policy violated the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man “by failing to duly consider on an individual basis their rights to family and the best interest of their children.” In deportation proceedings, the men had been given no opportunity to present evidence of their rehabilitation, their family situation or other humanitarian concerns.A recent major study of children who have lived through the deportations of their caretakers found large numbers exhibiting loss of appetite, nightmares, and other disruptions in sleeping and eating patterns; increased crying, fear, anxiety, and clinginess; withdrawal from friends and family; increased aggressive behavior in older children; and developmental and speech delays in younger children. In the longer term, children forcibly separated from their parents are highly susceptible to mental health complications linked to the traumatic effect on brain growth and functioning that can occur when attachment and bonding with caregivers is interrupted. US immigration law must be revised to require a full and fair individualized balancing between the interests of families to remain united and the country’s law enforcement interest in deporting parents and spouses. There are two bills in Congress right now that would help achieve fairness, and better health, for families and children: the Child Citizen Protection Act, and the HELP Separated Children Act.? If enacted, these measures would protect American children by preventing immigration enforcement officers from conducting frightening raids, arrests, or interviews in front of children; by helping parents maintain custody and make arrangements for their children’s care during enforcement actions; and by requiring enforcement officers and courts to take children’s best interests into account when making decisions about detention, transfer between prison facilities, and deportation.Call your Senators and Representative and ask them to stand up for American kids and their need for family unity by sponsoring the Child Citizen Protection Act and HELP Separated Children Act.

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