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Did the U.S. Violate Human Rights at the Border?

U.N. rights chief "appalled" at U.S. detention conditions

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The 30 rights and freedoms set out in the UDHR include

  • the right to asylum,

  • the right to free speech and the right to education,

  • civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech, and privacy,
  • It also includes economic, social, and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health, and education.

[Amnesty International]

In 2017, 

  • The Trump administration rapidly adopted and expanded a "nuclear option" policy of separating children and families when apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • The policy was implemented in a "Zero-Tolerance" environment.

  • The Trump administration used it as a tactic to scare away migrants and asylum seekers. [The New York Times]

  • At least 3,000 children have been separated from family and housed in government detention centers or foster homes across the country. [The New York Times]



CIVICS: According to the U.N., when countries (states) agree to international treaties, they also become bound to the International Human Rights Law. Countries cannot violate the UDHR and have an obligation to protect and facilitate "the enjoyment of basic human rights. [United Nations]

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), as well as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), work together at the U.S.-Mexico Border to enforce policy directives from the executive branch.


SOCIAL: Separating children and families has short- and long-term psychological consequences. [NPR] According to the American Psychological Association, research has shown that the longer the time of separation from family, especially during the immigration process, the higher the rates of anxiety and depression. [American Psychological Association]


Clear violation

According to Amnesty International, the Zero-Tolerance policy is "absolutely prohibited in international law." [Amnesty International]


With ongoing violations

According to several U.N. human rights bodies, detaining migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that is prohibited under international law. [United Nations]

  • "I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions”, -High Commissioner for Human Rights [United Nations]
  • We’ve had instances of fathers separated from their children because the last time the father was in the U.S. years ago, he got a ticket for driving with an expired license. He was arrested, and therefore now has a criminal conviction on his record, and that is the justification for the separation.” -Efrén Olivares, Attorney for Texas Civil Rights Project  [TIME


We had to

The Trump administration claims a state of crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, specific to the amount of illegal immigration occurring.*

*This statement is misleading. Read more about Immigration at U.S.-Mexico Border.


We're upholding the law

"My decision has been, that anyone who breaks the law, will be prosecuted." -Former United States Secretary of Homeland SecuritKirstjen Nielsen [The New York Times]


Not our fault

The Trump administration routinely blames the Democratic party and the Obama administration for the policy. [The New York Times]


  • June 20, 2018: President Trump signed an executive order ending the "zero-tolerance" family separation policy. The order outlined reunification of children and parents/guardians only after their case had been settled. [NPR]
  • June 26, 2018: A federal judge ruled the Trump administration's policy is unconstitutional and must stop separating parents and children, without an objective finding that a parent is unfit. [Associated Press]
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) is now working to reunify children with their families. [U.S Department of Homeland Security]
  • Jan. 1, 2020: Since the executive order, over 1,100 migrant families have been separated. [NPR]
  • Sept. 17, 2020: A whistleblower filed a report alleging dangerous health conditions and practices in a South Georgia immigration detention center. The Speaker of the House is now calling for an investigation into human rights violations. [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Pandemic 2020

  • The Trump administration shut down the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to contain the pandemic. [The Los Angeles Times

  • The Trump administration is proposing to deny a majority of asylum claims. [The Wall Street Journal]

  • Oct. 2020: Parents of over 500 children cannot be found for reunification. [NPR]


Key Vocabulary