Under the Obama Administration, the United States presents itself as a beacon of human rights and a protector of the weakest. However, contradictions came to the surface – regarding the treatment of migrant children, no less – at the UN General Assembly’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants this week.
The draft for the resolution set to come out of this first-of-its-kind global meeting on the topic declared that children should never be detained. Still, the United States and other countries opposed this language, and the word “never” was ultimately replaced with “seldom.” The published summary speaks of working to “end the practice of detaining children…”
There is a gap between the “never” and the “seldom” in which a completely unacceptable system fits; a system in which minors are incarcerated in detention centers owned by savvy companies who know how to turn people into large profits. The same administrators the Department of Justice has considered inadequate to manage federal prisons – partly due to the way they treat inmates – are in charge of minors escaping violence, as is the case with many Central Americans.
To top it off, these minors endure legal processes in front of immigration judges but have no right to a lawyer – which the most perverse criminals are assigned – or to a translator to face the adults who are trying to deport them. The aberration of this system has led Judge Jack H. Weil, who trains other judges, to declare in federal court that he has “literally taught 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds immigration law,” and that “it takes a lot of time… but they get it.”
Given these circumstances, it is hard to imagine what those “seldom” moments when it would be correct to detain children could be.
It is good to know that President Obama convened a special meeting at the U.N. to obtain a commitment to find funding and international efforts to face the global crisis of displaced people. However, it is shameful for the U.S. to be one of the countries that, while speaking of improving the treatment of minors, are imposing limits due to an abusive immigration system that defies all logic.