The influential American Academy of Pediatrics has added to growing pressure on the incoming Biden administration to reverse the practice of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents at the Mexican border set by President Donald Trump, concurring with other prominent groups that the practice amounted to torture under international standards.
In the latest update of its findings, issued this month, the pediatrics group found that the family separation policy, which was aimed at deterring migrants’ attempts to enter the United States, ran afoul of the Geneva Conventions and other international human rights guidelines.
The Academy of Pediatrics’ move follows a similar finding by other medical advocacy groups, including Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based nonprofit; and the American College of Physicians. Other groups, including Amnesty International, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Episcopal Church have also weighed in.
Torture against children is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions (1949) and the Additional Protocols (1977), the report states, as well as by the U.N. Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984). The U.S. signed but did not ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which defines the rights of migrant and refugee children to remain with their families, be free from violence and exploitation, and enjoy optimal health and development.
The academy’s report says the Trump family separation policy met the criteria for torture because it inflicted physical and psychological abuse on children, causing them painful, severe suffering and represented “a purposeful” government strategy designed to use children to reduce border crossings.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to roll back many of Trump’s hardline immigration policies, but there are limits on what he can do in the first few months of his term. His election has unleashed high expectations to undo Trump’s policies, but he is expected to have to move deliberately so as not to accelerate the flow of immigrants.
During Trump’s four years, immigrant advocates charged that border crossers are sometimes arbitrarily detained or deported without warning, breaking up families. The administration’s “zero tolerance” policy included separating migrant children from their families at the border until that policy faced intense backlash.
Although many migrant families have since been reunited, immigrant advocacy groups have been unable to locate the parents of more than 500 remaining children. Biden transition team officials and advocates have met to discuss improving reunification efforts and restore trust with the immigrant community.