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DHS “Zero Tolerance Policy” Punishes Families for Seeking Safety, Violates International Law

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May 8, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would criminally prosecute all border-crossers, including asylum seeking families and children, and separate children from their parents. This announcement is a part of the administration’s “zero tolerance policy,” announced last month and in previous statements that administration officials have made over the past year and a half, on using family separation as a migration deterrence measure. It goes against statements of concern from members of Congress and the public.

“This policy is nothing short of cruel. The administration is basing its policy on a xenophobic vision of who these families are. Is it American to punish families whose only crime has been to seek safety from violence in their homelands? This will only traumatize mothers, fathers, and children fleeing from violence. Separating mothers and fathers from their children is costly and unnecessary. Denying access to international protection flies in the face of U.S. responsibility under international law. The administration should immediately stop this policy that goes against who we are—a nation that values family unity and welcomes those seeking refuge,” asserts Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Senior Associate for Mexico, Migrant Rights and Border Issues at the Latin America Working Group (LAWG)..

To date, DHS has claimed that family separation is not its official policy. Yet since October 2017, the New York Times has reported that over 700 children have been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is reinforced by reports from nongovernmental groups. Border crossings are also not at all-time highs. Though border crossings for March and April of this year were higher than the same months for the past years, overall border crossings remain at lows since the 1970s.

LAWG has documented the situation of violence, corruption, and impunity that many of these families are fleeing from in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America extensively in a new report. Since the termination of the Central American Minors (CAM) program at the start of this year, there are no mechanisms for families and children from these countries to seek international protection without having to leave their homes and make the dangerous journey to the United States. Families and children who have been turned away from ports of entry and denied access to asylum at the border also face human rights violations along Mexico’s northern border.

We urge the administration to stop this policy immediately and instead maintain due process and family unity in processing all individuals, families, and children arriving at our border, allow them a chance to make their claims heard and not return them to harm.