Last month, the Trump administration took 2,300 refugee children from their parents. Under pressure from the international civil society, Trump was forced to change course and allow the children to reunite with their parents. Now after a few weeks or so, these migrant children are still without their parents, facing a tangled legal process and a shortage of lawyers to help them through it.
This raises many more questions than the Trumpsters would like to answer. Over the last month, lawyers for the Texas Civil Rights Project have talked to more than 380 immigrant parents in courtrooms whose children have been taken from them, in an attempt to ensure that there is some documentation of the separation. It’s still unclear whether and how the US government is helping them to reunite. Other than one child who was released to a relative, they have not been able to confirm that any of those separated families have been reunified. It’s a disgrace.
The same lawyers describe the reunification process as “chaos” and nonexistent despite Trump’s executive order. The children and their families are being sent to separate military bases instead, a controversial move that violates their basic human rights. The use of military facilities is outrageous and flies in the face of International Humanitarian Law.
To make matters worse, many children are facing the nightmare of immigration courts on their own. They have to face judges alone because many don’t have lawyers and are without attorney representation in order to provide emotional support and demonstrate solidarity. Once in court, they simply cry and get really scared.
The number of children without representation is a particularly poignant illustration of a much bigger problem: Under the Trump White House, separated children don’t have a right to an attorney because they don’t have a right to stay in the US as refugees. According to Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative, “the average immigration case in the US lasts more than four years, because there is no such thing as a simple case.”
In the absence of a right to government-funded counsel, pressure from the Trump administration has also led to hastier decision-making by judges and reduced the amount of time that many children have to find a lawyer. This is making the problem worse by forcing immigration judges to rush their cases through the system, denying continuances, and giving immigrant kids even less time to seek legal representation for asylum cases that could prevent deportation.
For children who escaped violence and poverty in their native countries and survived treacherous treks to the US border, immigration courts are the nightmare they simply don’t want. Without some right-place-right-time good fortune, most face deportation.
Tragically, this kind of brutal refugee policy is also inspiring many far right governments in Europe. Many European leaders have not only expressed admiration for Trump’s draconian refugee policies but have initiated ways to implement them in their own nations. Just like in the US, refugees are imprisoned in privatized or military detention centers across the EU. The xenophobic idea is to contend with the recent surge of people fleeing Africa and the Middle Eastern conflicts they the West helped to fuel.
It is past time for the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch and international activists to condemn this brutal refugee demonization policy in the West. The international civil society should also exert pressure on the Western governments to stop branding arrivals from the Middle East and beyond as potential terrorists and Islamist extremists. The United States and its NATO allies should be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity over their abuse of refugees in detention and separation of families, as well as for their endless wars of deceit and occupation in Muslim heartlands.
There are still persuasive grounds for arguing that an international court wouldn’t face major obstacles. The world is convinced that it was the US and its allies that created the global refugee crisis in the early 21st century after invading Afghanistan and Iraq. They also created millions more refugees after turning Syria, Yemen and Libya into failed states. The truth is, refugees are fleeing the chaos the US helped to create. The best solution to the refugee issue is not to militarize borders, to detain and separate families, or to send them all back to their countries of origin – if there’s any country left. The best solution is to accept responsibility and to end America’s endless war on the world.