The United States Must Respect International Human Rights Law at the United States – Mexico Border
<p>Photo: AP</p>

Washington, D.C., June 21, 2018.- The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) denounces the inhumane treatment of migrants and their children at the United States – Mexico border. As a human rights organization, we have been horrified to read about the separation of children from parents, evidenced by heartbreaking images and recordings of children facing detention on their own.

Since April 6, 2018, when the United States Department of Justice implemented a zero-tolerance approach to those apprehended after crossing the border, approximately 2,300 children have been separated from parents sent to face criminal prosecution.

These separations and detentions violate a variety of international human rights law norms. The Inter-American human rights system is clear that migration-related detention may not be punitive in nature and must comply with requirements of necessity and proportionality.

At the same time, the best interests of the child must guide all decisions taken related to their care. Additionally, expedited mass criminal procedures to convict parents of illegal entry and subsequently deport them raise serious questions about due process and guaranteeing the right to seek asylum.        

In the face of these serious violations, fellow human rights defenders have worked tirelessly on behalf of detained and separated children. This activism, coupled with condemnation by international organizations, finally produced a reaction by the White House, as the President signed an Executive Order on June 20, 2018 to allow for families to be detained together.

However, while the order may stop the immediate separation of families, it raises many more questions. Will migrant children remain detained with their parents for extended periods of time, in contravention of existing law? How will the thousands of already detained children be reunited with parents? What will be done regarding the obligation to provide reparations for those whose rights have been violated?

Within this worrying context, CEJIL will reiterate its request that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights prioritize a pending case, filed jointly with Jennifer Harbury and Sarah Paoletti in 2015, on behalf of detained migrant children. The continued development of international law standards will provide further resources to fight unjust policies that violate human rights.

In the short term, we call on the United States to respect international human rights law in the design and implementation of its migration policy. The United States must take into account that many of those arriving at the border are in situations of extreme vulnerability, fleeing violence and persecution, and therefore eligible for international protection. In the long term, CEJIL calls on countries of both origin and destination to address policies that perpetuate violence and inequality, making the dangerous journey across borders seem to be the safest option.