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Forced Child–Family Separations in the Southwestern U.S. Border Under the “Zero-Tolerance” Policy: Preventing Human Rights Violations and Child Abduction into Adoption (Part 1)

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Abstract

This article focuses on the “zero-tolerance” policy adopted in spring, 2018, in the USA. This immigration policy criminalized the undocumented or illegal entry of child migrants and their families on the southwestern U.S. border. Those affected were mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The implementation of this policy resulted in the forced separation of children from their families and the violation of human rights of those detained in authorized facilities and foster care. The policy coincides with limited U.S. government case management of unaccompanied and accompanied minors. We examine critical issues to include international conventions regarding child rights and the best interest of the child that provide globally recognized guidance to prevent separations of children from their parents. These discriminating policies and unjust practices have already triggered institutional condemnations and legal complaints at the national and international levels. Informed by our own studies of forced migration and child abduction into adoption from two of the mentioned Central American countries, we suggest how social workers, as human rights defenders and gatekeepers of child welfare practices, may respond to these unjust policies and practices. This article is part 1 of two papers on the subject; the second article is focused on the resulting trauma of those affected.
Forced ChildFamily Separations in the Southwestern U.S. Border
Under the BZero-Tolerance^Policy: Preventing Human Rights Violations
and Child Abduction into Adoption (Part 1)
Carmen Monico
1
&Karen S. Rotabi
2
&Justin Lee
3
Published online: 26 March 2019
#Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
Abstract
This article focuses on the Bzero-tolerance^policy adopted in spring, 2018, in the USA. Thisimmigration policy criminalized the
undocumented or illegal entry of child migrants and their families on the southwestern U.S. border. Those affected were mostly
from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The implementation of this policy resulted in the forced separation of children from
their families and the violation of human rights of those detained in authorized facilities and foster care. The policy coincides with
limited U.S. government case management of unaccompanied and accompanied minors. We examine critical issues to include
international conventions regarding child rights and the best interest of the child that provide globally recognized guidance to
prevent separations of children from their parents. These discriminating policies and unjust practices have already triggered
institutional condemnations and legal complaints at the national and international levels. Informed by our own studies of forced
migration and child abduction into adoption from two of the mentioned Central American countries, we suggest how social
workers, as human rights defenders and gatekeepers of child welfare practices, may respond to these unjust policies and practices.
This article is part 1 of two papers on the subject; the second article is focused on the resulting trauma of those affected.
Keywords Forced family separation .Unaccompanied minors .Central America migration .Human rights crisis .Human/child
rights .Social work policy and practice
The latest human rights crisis at the southwestern U.S. border
is characterized not only by an increase in the number of
immigrant children and their familiespredominantly from
Guatemala, El Salvador, and Hondurasbut also by the ex-
plicit policies and widespread practices resulting in forced
separation of families. Over the past decade, many of those
reaching the U.S. border have qualified to request asylum,
fearing for their safety in their home countries. Violence has
reached epidemic levels, particularly societal and familial
violence against women (Ayon et al. 2017), which was previ-
ously recognized as a claim for Central American women
seeking asylum in the U.S. (Costantino et al. 2012). As the
authors (hereinafter Bwe^) explore in this paper, which con-
stitutes the first of a two-part article, many women and other
caregivers from these countries often arrive with children, and
they have experienced forced family separation more exten-
sively since the introduction of new immigration policies un-
der President Donald Trumpsadministration.
From a Border Humanitarian Crisis
to the Widespread Violation of Human Rights
of Migrant Children and Their Families
Over the course of the past decade, families have been Bfleeing
human rights violations yet also suffer human rights violations
once apprehended in the U.S., including detention, abuse, denial
of medical care, and restrictions in access to legal representation^
(Androff 2016, p. 76). This migration push is a result of multiple
factors, including weak states controlled by narco-traffickers and
*Carmen Monico
cmonico@elon.edu
1
Human Service Studies, 129A, Elon University, 2337 Campus Box,
Elon, NC 27244-9379, USA
2
Department of Social Work, California State University, Monterey
Bay, Valley Hall, Room B-102, 100 Campus Center,
Seaside, CA 93955, USA
3
Sociology, Social Work and Criminology, Idaho State University,
Kegel Liberal Arts 360, 921 S. 8th Avenue, Stop 8114,
Pocatello, ID 83209, USA
Journal of Human Rights and Social Work (2019) 4:164179
https://doi.org/10.1007/s41134-019-0089-4
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Both the UDR and the CRC defined a set of rights for all people, particularly children (Reichert 2003), and influenced the establishment of international agreements on intercountry adoption. The UDR adopted in post-World War II upheld the right to form a family and the need to protect motherhood and childhood as the right to seek asylum in a second country (Monico et al. 2019a). ...
... Its brief implementation during 2018 resulted in reinforcing administrative practices of forced child-family separation. As discussed extensively in Monico et al. (2019aMonico et al. ( , 2019b, this policy was a response to the increased number of migrant children and their families crossing the U.S. southwestern border. It was also a challenge to the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which prohibited the detention of children for more than 20 days and ordered their placement in child-friendly facilities. ...
... (Center for Gender and Refugee Studies of the University of California Hastings College and the Migration & Asylum Program Justice and Human Rights Center of the National University of Lanús 2015, p. xii). This failed system has impeded the effective and timely reunification of those affected by the zero-tolerance policy in spite of several court orders calling government agencies to expedite this process (Monico et al. 2019a(Monico et al. , 2019b). ...
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