Separating families is about Human Rights, Not Politics

James Paek, SFL blogger, discuss about immigration crisis in the U.S.-Mexico border in Summer of 2018

Separating families is about Human Rights, Not Politics

The political pundits have had a glorious time this year. President Trump has given them one opportunity after another in which to shine … hotly discussing the actions of the current administration to the point of saturation.

This summer they really latched onto something to inflame their viewers with. The media truly did make sure that the separation of immigrant families — indeed the caging of children — did not go unnoticed.

The Limits of the Media

Even as the talking heads on Fox News, CNN and the rest went in circles debating the history, the legality, and the ethics of the Trump administration’s handling of border issues, there has been a larger concern at hand.

Are we listening to the right people on this issue? Are political analysts the right ones to be watching? Is this even a political issue?

Once you break free of the U.S. media culture, which thrives on hype and feeds off the nation-wide polarity the current administration has engendered, calmer minds can prevail. In fact, we discover that there’s an alternative way of looking at this deeply concerning issue: as a human rights issue.

Immigration's is a Human Rights Issue

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) wants the U.S. to “preserve family unity” and also to address the cause of the migrations through Central America and across the Mexican border into the U.S.

The heart-wrenching separation of children from their families at the border was based on actual U.S. law. However, the Trump administration chose to handle this law differently from past administrations.

In 1997, something known as the Flores settlement decreed that migrant families cannot legally be detained for more than 20 days. Trump wants to hold these migrants longer than that. He doesn’t want the parents to go free while they await their asylum cases to be heard in the courts.

Removing the children from the equation places their families outside the jurisdiction of the Flores settlement so they can be detained while they wait out their cases.

By asking the courts to change that 1997 legislation, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asking permission to detain not just the parents but kids longer, too. His take on the matter? He’s asking to keep the family unit intact. He may have a point. How you see the issue depends on which perspective you take. And, apparently, on which side of the political divide you reside.

But that’s putting children in the midst of a political debate, a place they shouldn’t be. There’s far more at stake since detention has deep, long-lasting effects on kids.

Detentions Harms Children

In the past, conditions at detention centers where families are held have been called “deplorable”. Unsanitary. That’s one of the main contentions supports of the Flores decision make when calling upon leaders to respect the human rights of immigrant children.

The National Academy of Sciences has issued a statement noting the devastating consequences of tearing kids from their families at the border. Citing scientific evidence of several forms of potential harm and acute stress, among other long-term effects, they place the issue firmly in the realm of human rights.

Escaping Disaster

And keep in mind that even without the issue of the kids at the border, the parents were fleeing life-threatening conditions in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Conditions that also place their plight firmly within a context of human rights.

How should the world handle waves of displaced people? Many seem to be forgetting that the United States and others have signed international treaties declaring their support for “doing the right thing” concerning people fleeing danger in their own countries. It seems politics are overriding those promises.

Beyond Politics

President Trump rode a political wave of fear and reactionary sentiment on his way to the White House. Immigration was a core issue for his campaign and it continues to play a special role in flavoring his decisions regarding asylum seekers and other refugees. It could be said that Trump owed it to his base to respond the way he did. It could also be said that it’s the only remaining issue that galvanizes the populist sector of the population.

But don’t let that cloud the issue at hand. Pushing politics aside, we’re still left with a burning-hot debate over human rights. And that discussion looks nothing like the politically-charged conversations so many people see every night on the newsy talk shows.

In the age of Trump, where everything is politicized, it’s more important than ever to note the distinction. Which conversation will you follow?

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