Monday, October 2, 2023
The UN Human Rights Committee Will Review the U.S. Next Month. Why Not Engage with the Committee on the Abolition of Immigration Detention of Children? – Part I
Prof. Bartlett writes this two-part post on the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s upcoming review of the United States during the week of October 16th.
The U.S. human rights record will be on full display next month when the U.N. Human Rights Committee finally gets to review the Fifth Periodic Report submitted by the United States during the final days of the Trump administration in January 2021. Some important federal immigration policies have changed for the better under the Biden administration, including a halt, however temporary it might be, on the inhumane practice of detaining migrant children and their families in cages at the border. However, the U.S. report does not reflect those changes despite calls by human rights advocates for updates and it is unlikely that the topic of the abolition of immigration detention of children will be given much play during the review.
If the Biden administration is serious about forging a path towards the abolition of immigration detention of children, it should at the very least engage on the topic with international human rights mechanisms, including during the upcoming review of the United States by the U.N. Human Rights Committee. This is a relatively low stakes step that the U.S. government can take towards abolition.
Migrant Children Detained at the U.S. Border
Detaining children in cages even for short periods of time is traumatic and has negative long-lasting impacts on child health and well-being. While some countries around the globe have outlawed the detention of children based solely on migration status, U.S. law allows officials to put children in cages at the border for up to twenty days and that time limit is rarely enforced.
Until just a year and a half ago, the United States detained hundreds of thousands of migrant children in cages each year. Out of nearly 2 million people detained by the United States at the border from February 2017 through June 2021, more than 650,000 were children. Children detained at the border were held in cages that were built decades ago, at a time when most detained migrants were adult men who were held briefly and rapidly deported. Migrant children were detained in wire cages or tents and then were later moved to larger cinder block cells. The children reported that the food was spoiled and made them sick. Kids with injuries, fevers, coughs or stomachaches could not get basic medical care. Children were held for weeks in the same wet and filthy clothes after journeying thousands of miles and crossing the Rio Grande river. Children also reported bone-chilling cold from the air-conditioned cinder block cells, which are known across the border as hieleras, meaning iceboxes in Spanish.
There are many excuses used by the U.S. government for putting migrant children in cages. These excuses include security and terrorism, deterrence, risk of absconding, public health, and ensuring the child’s well-being. However, detention is never in a child’s best interest and the ill-treatment endured by child migrants means these excuses fall short of justifying these practices. Moreover, many of the detained migrant children, up to forty-six percent or more, had valid asylum claims and require protection as refugees under international law.
At least for the time being, the U.S. government no longer puts migrant children in cages. Today, migrant children with their families at the border must wait near the border for their turn to use the mobile app called CBP One. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is allowing roughly 40,000 migrants per month to make appointments through the CPB one app, with more than 100,000 migrants waiting to use the app at any given time. If a family receives an appointment and their asylum claims are processed by the Border Patrol, they are supposed to be briefly processed by the Border Patrol and then released into the United States with their movements tracked through a GPS monitoring device, such as ankle bracelets or traceable cellphone.
Unaccompanied children at the border detained by Border Patrol are now supposed to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The ORR places unaccompanied children in shelters and then with sponsors, usually family members, as they await immigration proceedings. Though the ORR has used large temporary facilities to detain unaccompanied children at the border in the past, which resemble the Border Patrol cages and hieleras, no migrant children have been held in such a temporary facility since 2022 according to the ORR’s website.
While current practices regarding migrant children at the border do not officially involve cages, there are ongoing worries about conditions in the CBP and ORR facilities. In addition, there is a strong argument that GPS monitoring is just another form of oppressive and racialized violence perpetuated against migrants. The bottom line is that no inhumane, cruel or tortuous practices should be perpetuated by the U.S. government against migrant children.