Andres Oppenheimer

U.N. and OAS should look into Trump’s forcible separation of children from their immigrant parents

Migrants in Texas, where military bases may house children taken from their parents who cross the border illegally.
Migrants in Texas, where military bases may house children taken from their parents who cross the border illegally. TNS

President Trump’s practice of separating growing numbers of immigrant parents from their children is so cruel — and unnecessary — that it should be denounced by international organizations such as the United Nations.

Even some well-known Republicans are suggesting an international inquiry into this abhorrent family separation policy.

Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union and former head of Florida’s Republican Party, tweeted this week that, “Maybe sadly we need to call upon” the United Nations and the Organization of American States “to look into our 3rd world policy of separating forcibly children from their parents.”

He added, “Amazing to consider this is America.”

To be sure, it’s not the first time that undocumented parents are being separated from their children at the U.S. border. The Obama administration and its predecessors did so as well.

But, this time, the difference is that the U.S. government plans to carry out these family separations on a much bigger scale, as a deterrent against illegal immigration. Already, 658 immigrant children were taken from their parents in a 13-day span in May.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented immigrants. That means that many more people will be sent directly to jail after crossing the border, instead of being allowed temporary freedom while they await deportation hearings or asylum rulings.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions told reporters in San Diego on May 7. “We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally and attempt to enter into this country improperly,” Sessions said.

Immigration advocates say that this violates international and U.S. asylum laws. Seeking asylum is a legal right, not a loophole, they say.

“It’s perfectly legal for parents and children fleeing horrific violence and dangerous situations to apply for asylum in the U.S. They and their children deserve protection under the law, not inhumane treatment,” says David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Worse, the Trump administration is circulating a proposal for a new rule under which the government would investigate potential guardians of unaccompanied kids.

If the proposed rule takes effect, minors who are separated from their parents will be more unprotected than ever, because there will be fewer guardians willing to take these children.

Many of those who volunteered to sponsor undocumented minors are their relatives who are undocumented migrants themselves, and who fear being deported if they contact government agencies under the proposed rules, immigration rights activists say.

“Obama’s policy wasn’t good, but this one is much worse,” Cardenas, the former Florida Republican Party chairman, told me.

At the core of this scandal is the fact that Trump has blown out of proportion — if not invented — an immigration crisis for political gain. Like all populist demagogues, he needs an enemy to keep his base constantly aroused, and he has picked on Mexican and Central American immigrants since the beginning of his presidential campaign.

While there has been an increase in illegal border crossings in recent months, U.S. government figures show that illegal immigration has been declining for years.

Apprehensions of undocumented immigrants along the Mexico border last year totaled 310,000, down from 876,000 in 2007, and 1.7 million in 2000, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics.

And, contrary to what Trump wants us to believe, there are fewer violent crimes committed by undocumented migrants than by native Americans.

Ironically, while Trump often portrays undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals, French President Emmanuel Macron this week met with an undocumented migrant who has been proclaimed a hero for scaling an apartment building to save a young child hanging from a balcony. Macron gave the migrant French nationality — and a job.

What a difference with Trump, who only seems to meet with relatives of the victims of immigrants who committed violent crimes and has falsely claimed that most Mexican undocumented migrants are “criminals” and “rapists.”

The forcible separation of parents and children at the U.S. border should be denounced before the U.N. and the OAS’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission. It’s against international law — and it’s un-American.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera