June 18 (UPI) — Amid growing backlash over the separation of migrant children from their families at the Mexico border, the United Nations’ chief human rights official asked the Trump administration Monday to end the practice.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said migrants seeking entry to the United States do not lose their fundamental human rights just because they cross the border unlawfully.
“I am deeply concerned by recently adopted policies which punish children for their parents’ actions,” Hussein said in a statement. “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”
The Trump administration has proposed building “tent cities” in the Southwest to house the separated families.
President Donald Trump has blamed the separations on Democrats and Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen said Sunday there is no firm policy to separate migrant children from parents.
“This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive,” Nielsen tweeted. “As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry.”
Nielsen said her department has a duty to protect children from gangs, traffickers, criminals and abusers — and that those concerns sometimes warrant a separation.
“For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law,” Nielsen added in a separate tweet.
“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border, Period.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the Justice Department will prosecute all adults who attempt to cross the border unlawfully — a policy that would, in some cases, result in separations.
U.S. officials said last week they separated 2,000 children from their parents during immigration enforcement in April and May.
Former first lady Laura Bush wrote Sunday in The Washington Post the policy is heartbreaking and invokes bad memories from World War II.
“Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso,” she wrote. “These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II.”
“In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.”
Earlier Sunday, first lady Melania Trump said she “hates” seeing children separated from their families and called for a bipartisan solution to end the practice.
“She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart,” Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady’s office, said.
The president tweeted last week that Democrats were “forcing the breakup of families at the border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.” On Sunday, he urged Democrats to work with Republicans to resolve the matter.
“Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?” Trump said in a tweet Monday. “Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?”
The president said that children were being used by “some of the worst criminals on earth” as means to enter the United States.
“It is the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder Security and Crime,” Trump tweeted, apparently referring to the border. “Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration. Change the laws!”
A new Republican draft bill — designed to settle differences between conservative and moderate Republicans — would provide a path to legal status for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and provide $25 billion in funding for Trump’s promised border wall. It would not supersede the administration’s effort to criminally prosecute parents, which places them in federal custody away from their children.
Experts question whether the legislation, which would also transform the visa lottery into a merit-based program, would have much effect on the issue.
“This bill would not end family separation,” immigration policy expert David Bier told NBC News. “As long as that administration policy continues, there will continue to be family separation at the border.”