One Year On: Trump’s Zero Tolerance Policy
One year after the forcible separation of children from their families at the U.S. southern border under President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy the government continues to threaten further actions that would work against children’s best interests. The application of such policies would certainly negatively impact all children, but there is an added toxicity where children are detained, or separated from their family altogether. Evidence shows the harm of family separation and detention – even short-term – on children and on the capacity of caregivers.
Data on how the situation for separated children has been resolved remains unclear. However, reports suggest high numbers of children under-five years of age were separated under the policy, with a significant proportion not yet reunified with parents or previous primary caregivers.
Yet focussing on those separated under zero tolerance may be a misnomer. Separations took place before and since. While such separations may be in the child’s best interests, decision making in this regard should be made by the mandated authority following due process, which is not possible at the border..
Furthermore, there continues to be high numbers of children arriving unaccompanied at the U.S. southern border. These children often spend unnecessarily long periods of time in closed shelters, separated from the community and normal life. They are also exposed to violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect.
1. Cutting aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will only serve to worsen conditions that are prompting families to leave.
- Aid programmes must be continued or reinstated, as they have had an impact on making source communities safer, and reduce departures.
- It is critical to enable the voices of returning children to inform migration policy and controls, and individual migration decisions.
2. Take measures to prevent unnecessary family separation and safeguard and uphold the rights of unaccompanied children in transit and seeking asylum.
- Uphold the rights of asylum seekers to protection and due process within decision-making on their application to remain; recognizing their grounds for asylum. Provide all children with legal representation to support them through the legal process.
- End the use of immigration detention, which often leads to family separation. Rather than establishing further detention facilities, ensure short processing times at the border and establish family and community-based care systems while sponsoring families are found.
- Establish a tracking system to avert separations and allow for rapid reunification and publish real time data on the number of unaccompanied children in detention and their family separation status.
- Establish a system to monitor and support the quality of care in all transit or detention centres. Children awaiting decisions on their status need access to essential services including services to maintain family contact.
3. Promote family reunification where possible and if not family contact, and ensure alternative care meets quality standards and prioritises families.
- Ensure care decisions uphold each child’s rights and consider each child’s best interests. Facilitate regular contact between children and parents, relatives or family friends. Support (re)integration, and do not put in place obstacles to it.
- Give priority to family reunification, and when this is not possible prioritise family-based placements especially for children under-3 and children with disabilities. Where this is no possible make every effort to place children in non-restrictive, appropriate residential settings, in locations accessible to parents or relatives.
- Commit to no child being placed or held in care that is institutional in nature, and no child under the age of three should be placed in any form of residential care, as a matter of national policy.
4. U.S. sanctuary cities and states, including their immigration courts, should be supported not overwhelmed.
- The U.S. should not expend funds relocating migrants to sanctuary cities and states; money that would be better spent developing supportive local infrastructure.
- Good practice of sanctuary cities and states should be reinforced and replicated in border towns, which are most able to immediately support vulnerable families.
- All municipalities should strive to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.
5. Fund, coordinate with and support services in origin and transit countries, to ensure deported children and families including unaccompanied children can travel safely and rebuild their lives.
- Ensure that the decisions on return are preceded by a proper process of determining each child’s best interests, and that a parent, legal guardian or specialized official accompanies the child throughout the process.
- Ensure services to facilitate appropriate reception, care and reintegration. In remote or poorly served communities, work closely with local organisations to maximise chances of reaching all.
- The protocol for supporting child deportees in Guatemala needs to be fast-tracked, and Guatemala’s border governance measures need to ensure protection from return to unsafe locations, in collaboration with its neighbours.
Click through to our original statement from 2018 here