Even as breaking news reports on Thursday indicated Trump may soon backtrack on his so-called "zero tolerance" policy, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has responded to evidence of grave abuses of children at immigrant detention facilities by urging the United Nations to investigate the Trump administration's treatment of asylum seekers and the conditions that children are being subjected to after being separated from their families by the Department of Homeland Security.
Amid reports of grave abuses of children at immigrant detention facilities run by the U.S. government, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) urged the United Nations to investigate President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy and the conditions children are being subjected to after being separated from their families by the Department of Homeland Security.
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) June 21, 2018
"As the Democratic Congressional Representative to the U.N., I am formally requesting U.N. observers travel to the United States to report on the conditions of detention facilities and treatment of children, based on relevant international law and human rights principles," Lee wrote to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. "I am appalled by the reports and images from detention facilities in Texas and other states along the border, where more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents by border patrol agents."
Lee's letter to Guterres follows President Donald Trump's decision to begin keeping families together after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border—but thousands of children remain separated from their parents and guardians under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy which mandates that all adults who cross the border will be prosecuted.
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Trump's executive order stipulates that families will be detained together for undetermined lengths of time, and offers no plan for reunifying the families that the administration has ripped apart since the "zero tolerance" policy went into effect in May. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that prosecutions of adults traveling with children will be suspended "until Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can accelerate resource capability to allow [the government] to maintain custody."
As Lee notes in her letter, American Academy of Pediatrics is among the dozens of organizations that have warned against the practice, saying family separation "can cause irreparable harm to lifelong development by disrupting a child’s brain architecture."
In addition to separating children from their parents, staffers at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), part of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), have been accused of giving children powerful psychotropic drugs in at least one facility in Texas, ostensibly to subdue them. In another detention center in Virginia, children have accused staff members of beating them, handcuffing them, strapping them to chairs with bags over their heads, and placing them in solitary confinement.
As University of Michigan professor of history Juan Cole wrote in his column on Thursday, "It is absolutely clear that the U.S. under Trump is in violation of its commitments under the 1967 Protocol and the relevant articles of the Convention on the Treatment of Refugees."
The U.N. itself has spoken out against the Trump administration's family separation practice, with the body's human rights office calling it "a serious violation of the rights of the child."
Guterres also reminded the U.S. this week that "refugees and migrants should always be treated with respect and dignity, and in accordance with existing international law."