Many people were rightly shocked and appalled when they heard about Trump’s decision to separate the children of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from their parents, writes Sarah Petersen.
But it’s also true that US governments have a long history of ambivalence towards various Human Rights treaties. While the US has signed the UN Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Economic and Social Convention, they have not ratified them. It t is one of the few countries in the world that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Apparently one of their excuses was they may need to put a child in prison for life or execute one). And while they signed and ratified the Convention on Torture in 1994; their actions during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrated their contempt for its provisions.
Trump’s government believes that seizing the children of migrants and asylum seekers is legally justified. The UN however has argued that this may “amount to torture” due to emotional distress and psychological trauma. These children are already in a stressful situation; to then lose the one constant they have had is unbearable. But the many accusations of violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the Trump administration and its Attorney General Jeff Sessions are water off a ducks back. They don’t believe in human rights and dismiss the UN’s condemnations of their actions.
For all the liberal clutching of pearls that “this is not America”, it is very American. The routine separation of Native American children from their families to Indian Residential Schools or American Indian Boarding schools was part of a conscious policy to forcibly assimilate them to white, Christian culture. This combined with the murders of many Native Americans by the US military and the deaths due to forced relocations along the Trail of Tears onto reservations. These and the forced sterilisation of Native American women are all part of a genocidal policy by the US government. Native Americans resisted these forced relocations (see, e.g., Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce); just as they fought the separation from their children.
And it’s not the first time immigrants to the US have faced such treatment. The Flores Settlement (1997) created a series of rules and regulations concerning the treatment of children and their separation from their parents and limited the length of detentions for asylum seekers to two months. In 2007, a Guatemalan woman arrested on immigration charges had her son put up for adoption in Missouri against her wishes; in 2012, she lost the case fighting to regain her child whose adopted she had been contesting.
This latest attack on comes on top of a concerted national campaign by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to find and deport “illegal” immigrants (which sometimes targets people with permanent residency and even citizenship as we have seen with the Windrush generation in Britain); this campaign specifically targeted sanctuary cities in 2017 and 2018 and had established agreements in 20 states with law enforcement agencies for their campaign.
The executive order of a “zero tolerance” policy signed by Trump and supported and enforced by Sessions allows the prosecution of any migrants once the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has referred them to the Department of Justice. Between April 19th and May 31st 2018, nearly 2300 children were forcibly seized when entering the US as asylum seekers or migrants.
Seeking asylum is not a crime in the US; even entering the country “illegally” is a civil, not a criminal, matter. Yet, a constant meme of this administration is that these people are criminals. Since the parents are facing prosecution (for not committing a crime), the children have been separated from their parents.
When Senator Jeff Merkley went to see a “detention centre” where detained children were being kept; he was forbidden entry. The private police working there called the real police. The next day he was able to access another child detention centre. That is when the pictures of children in cages started appearing.
There are questions as to where the girls were being sent; all the pictures showed boys being detained together. Fears of child abuse and neglect and sexual abuse seem not to have been misplaced and there is precedent. The importance of the right to due process for asylum seekers and immigrants is at the core of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cases in support of both parents and children in detention. Family integrity is a fundamental part of due process.
Pictures of crying and bewildered children kept in cages were dismissed by Fox right-wing entertainment as: 1) the camps were like summer camps (Laura Ingraham); 2) the children were actors reading from a Liberal script (Ann Coulter); and 3) that these were not cages, but rather fenced in pens (Steve Doocy; like an animal shelter for example).
Sessions made four different attempts to justify the separation of children from their parents. Each legitimation was more than inadequate and entailed extremely worrying implications and ramifications:
- When a parent is imprisoned for a crime, children are separated from them. But these refugees, asylum seekers and migrants haven’t committed a crime. If the immigration is illegal, it is a civil offense. Moreover, the children of convicted people are not detained in a separate prison, nor prevented from having contact with them or visiting them. That makes no sense.
- The policy was justified by the Bible, specifically Romans 13 (submission to authorities and secular law, if just). He argued that means people must obey the law, missing the importance of charity, supporting strangers and that the law should be just. Serious questions were raised about his understanding of scripture.
His own Church, the United Methodist Church came out against him and 600 members of his church brought charges of child abuse against him. Several other religious groupings took similar positions; making formal criticisms of his argument and condemning the policy.
Then Evangelicals came out in opposition: The Evangelical Covenant, Southern Baptist Convention (the Right-Wing Evangelical church) came out against it; the Evangelical Immigration table sent a letter condemning the policy, on the basis that the family is an essential unit (Most of these people use the importance of the family against gay marriage and abortion, so they showed a surprising and rare consistency here!). But obviously not all Evangelicals openly oppose the policy.
When your evangelical supporters say this undermines “family values” around which their churches revolve (and on which they base many of their misogynistic positions) this becomes problematic. They may believe in “White Jesus”, but the families of fellow Christians (even of colour) should be protected. When even Billy Graham’s son Frank makes a criticism of his buddy Trump that is significant.
And there is significant confusion in Sessions’ religious justification. There is no established Church in the US. Separation between Church and State is part of the Bill of Rights. This is undermined by this attempted normalisation of religious justification by a member of the executive branch.
- Sessions has made fleeing violence an illegitimate basis for asylum; including being enslaved by drug cartels, being trafficked or a victim of domestic violence which were previously grounds for asylum.
- Sessions’ final attempt to justify the policy demonstrated his poor knowledge of history. He claimed comparisons with the Nazis were erroneous because they Nazis wanted the Jews to stay while he wanted these people to leave. And he didn’t criticise the Nazis and their extermination of the disabled, Jews, Roma and Sinti.
It is not only religious groups that reject the policy. Opposition sprang up across the country with protests at ICE offices and detention centres (e.g., Portland Oregon, Los Angeles,) protests , and demonstrations in major cities (Chicago, San Francisco, New York City) In Washington DC over 600 women were arrested in a women’s demonstration on June 28.
Important fundraising attempts were launched. An immigrant support Group in Texas, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) is raising money to cover bail and provide legal aid for detained parents to reunite families. The ACLU and RAICES work with those in detention. They have represented children at hearings as Trump cut legal aid for migrant children separated from their parents; leaving children to appear in court on their own.
Children are separated from their families and then have to fight their own legal battle for asylum to avoid deportation . To add further insult to injury, a federal official of the US government has been offering to return children to parents if they “simply” allow themselves to be deported. Many immigrant parents have been placed in removal proceedings and some have already been deported without their children.
Opposition came from Democratic members of Congress and State legislatures; and also some conservative Republicans like Ted Cruz. On June 19th the Governors of the states of New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado ended their cooperation with Trump’s call to send National Guards to the Mexico border. The Governors of 11 states have either recalled their State’s National Guard or have refused to send them after first agreeing to participate in Trump’s call.
So Trump’s ’about turn’, brought about by mass pressure, is only a partial victory.
There are 100 facilities where children have been taken after being removed from the cage. Theseare essentially holding pens. Over 10,000 children in custody at facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). There are serious questions about the treatment of the children and the impact on their emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of being held in detention separated from their parents.
And what Trump has done in return for “eliminating” family separation is to call for families seeking asylum to be detained together indefinitely rather than for the two months allowed by law. He has also been advocating for deportation without access to courts or determination of asylum status – yet another violation of the right of due process.
What we have now is the creation of family concentration camps. It violates the 1997 Flores Settlement which Trump and Sessions are seeking to overturn. Trump knows these proposals for indefinite detention are illegal but he thinks that can change – especially as he is about to appoint a new right winger to the Supreme Court of the US.
But the indefinite detention of asylum seekers is a violation of the right of due process and both US civil and international human rights law. And once accepted for asylum seekers and immigrants, the policy of forced detention ultimately means the abrogation of International treaties on obligations towards refugees.
Trump’s dehumanisation of people, calling them an infestation and constantly referring to them as illegal is another incredibly dangerous shift. It is mirrored in the rhetoric of right-wing parties in Europe. It is happening in the context of a rising international racist and xenophobic right-wing.
A victory for Trump would further empower other right-wing projects across the globe. It must be resisted.
There are demands put forward by the left and progressives in the States that that we must support
- Eliminate ICE. The “we were only following orders” in relation to crimes against humanity was rejected at the Nuremberg trials
- No detention of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants
- Reinstate the principle that those fleeing violence have reasons to ask for asylum
All out June 13 and 14
March against Trump the child snatcher on July 13th – show Theresa May her friend Donald is not welcome for this and many other reasons.
Join the counter-protests on July 14th against “Free Tommy Robinson” march. Don’t allow those spreading racism and Islamophobia to threaten our communities, stand in solidarity against then.
If you want to help financially, here are groups in Texas needing support.