Vatican statement warns 'children are suffering' in light of US family separations

Clark Mindock
Central American immigrants waiting to be transported by American immigration forces: John Moore/Getty Images

The Vatican and Mexico have released a joint statement claiming that “children are the ones suffering the most from forced migration”, just as the Trump administration comes under increased scrutiny for policies that have separated children from their parents when arriving in the United States seeking shelter from violent and dangerous conditions in their home countries.

The statement, which was released after the second Vatican-Mexico conference on international migration, did not explicitly reference the US policies that have led to that family separation, but did “insist on the centrality of the human person in every political act ... reaffirming the inviolability of human rights and the dignity of every human being on the move”.

“Children are the ones who are suffering the most from forced migration. We must respond effectively to the challenges created by these flows, balancing the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and co-responsibility,” the statement read.

The Trump administration has been under scrutiny since it was reported that as many as 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May, following a change in immigration policies announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that dictates a “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of incoming immigrants for criminal prosecution.

That policy even impacts individuals arriving in the United States seeking asylum from violent and dangerous conditions at home in countries like El Salvador, where violence and gang crime have ravaged communities, according to lawyers and advocates.

Asylum seekers now face, in some circumstances, at least two simultaneous paths forward. While they may file credible fear concerns with US immigration services to seek asylum in the US, the zero-tolerance policy requires that their cases also run through a criminal procedure for illegal entry. Facing those secondary charges, the immigrants are taken to facilities where children are not allowed.

Numerous reports have found that children are being kept in mass detention centres run by US agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services. In some instances, reports have indicated children are being held in large metal cages, surrounded by metal fencing in conditions that put as many as 20 minors together in a single cage.

Before the separation, US immigration forces have told parents in some instances that their children are being taken away for a bath, nap, or to be given fresh sets of clothes. The parents are not told immediately that their children are being taken away for separate detention, according to lawyers who have been working on cases in Texas.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen has refuted reports that agencies operating under her department's umbrella are unnecessarily prosecuting immigrants seeking asylum, and has said that the US is committed to ensuring children are safe.

"This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry," Ms Nielsen said in a tweet Sunday.

"DHS takes very seriously its duty to protect minors in our temporary custody from gangs, traffickers, criminals and abuse," she continued in a follow-up tweet.