The U.N. Office for Human Rights condemned the United States’ practice of separating children from their parents at the border on Tuesday and demanded that it halts immediately.

PBS reported that according to figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 650 children were separated from their parents within a two-week period last month. U.N. spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters, “There is nothing normal about detaining children,” and that “the U.S. should immediately halt this practice of separating families and criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offense.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April a “zero-tolerance” policy that calls for prosecuting anyone caught illegally crossing the border. This practice sends parents to criminal facilities, where children cannot follow. President Donald Trump periodically slams Democrats for supposedly creating a law that is breaking up families, but no such law exists and the separations are a result of this new policy. Previously, most families caught crossing the border would be released for civil deportation hearings.  

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who said he is “disturbed” by these practices, pressed the attorney general about the morality of separating families, but Sessions doubled down on his methods. He told Hewitt that, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”  


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“I don’t think children should be separated from biological parents at any age, but especially if they’re infants or toddlers,” Hewitt told Sessions. “I think it’s traumatic and terribly difficult for the child.”

Children who are separated from their parents crossing the border are placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which then attempts to place the children with other family members in the country or foster parents. There are currently more than 11,000 children in HHS care. Sessions told Hewitt that while he has never visited one of the facilities where the children are kept, he believes “for the most part they’re well taken care of.”

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, agrees with Hewitt’s assessment of separations being traumatic.

“This is the worst thing I’ve seen in 25-plus years of doing civil rights work,” Gelernt said on MSNBC. “I am talking to these mothers and they are describing their kids screaming, ‘Mommy, Mommy, don’t let them take me away!’…The medical evidence is overwhelming that we may be doing permanent damage to these kids, and yet the government is finding every way they can to try and justify it.”

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Shamdasani described the practice of separating children – including toddlers – from parents and family members as “arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”  

The administration has characterized its policy as being about immigration, but the New York Times reports that many of the detained immigrants, including families that have been split apart, enter at official border crossings and request asylum, which is both legal and exactly what Sessions said immigrants should be doing in his interview with Hewitt.


The ACLU has filed a class-action federal lawsuit in San Diego, calling for ending this practice and reuniting families.

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