In a New York immigration court, young children are representing themselves before judges hearing their cases. Last month 2-year old Fernanda Jacqueline Davila appeared before Judge Randa Zagzoug, who in one afternoon had seen over 30 children between the ages of 2 and 17 years. More children than ever are being held in government custody for longer than ever before. About 13,000 children who came to the United States on their own are being held for months in federally contracted shelters. Hundreds more who were separated from their families at the border are either in shelters or temporary foster care. They have all been stranded by the Trump administration’s determination to keep immigrants from crossing the southwest border of the United States.
“We rarely had children under the age of 6 until the last year or so,” said Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. “We started seeing them as a regular presence in our docket.” A new government policy has made it more difficult for relatives to claim their children from federal custody. Eleven-year-old Marilyn hoped to join her mother in Florida but because relatives are now required to undergo fingerprinting and background checks, it could take months before they are reunited.
Jess Morales Rocketto of Families Belong Together, a coalition of nearly 250 organizations that works “to permanently end family separation and incarceration, seek accountability for the harm that’s been done, and immediately reunite all families who remain torn apart,” highlighted the case of 5-year old Helen, an asylum seeker from Honduras who was detained at the border and persuaded to sign away her rights. “One of the things Helen’s story really showed us is that the Trump Administration never stopped separating children from their families. In fact, they’ve doubled down, but it’s even more insidious now, because they are doing it in the cover of night. We have learned we cannot take this Administration at their word.”
Let us remember these children on November 20th when we observe Universal Children’s Day. This marks the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989. The Convention sets out a number of children’s rights including the right to life, to health, to education and to play, as well as the right to family life, to be protected from violence, to not be discriminated against, and to have their views heard.
According to UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), which promotes the principles and provisions of the Convention, it reflects a new vision of the child. “Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. . . Previously seen as negotiable, the child’s needs have become legally binding rights. No longer the passive recipient of benefits, the child has become the subject or holder of rights.” (Visit https://www.unicef.org/world-childrens-day for more information.)
Although this is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history, the United States still has not ratified it. Indeed, ours is the only nation that hasn’t. The treaty has never even been sent to the Senate for consent and approval. What is our excuse?
According to Sarah Mehta, ACLU Human Rights Researcher, “While there is no good reason for the United States not to ratify the CRC, there are several reasons why we urgently need it. Ratifying the convention is not just about saving face in the international community — it will require us to confront some hard truths about the exceptionally bad way we treat children in the United States and to work to bring our laws and practices in line with human rights.”
I couldn’t agree more, and this year I plan to celebrate Universal Children’s Day by petitioning our government to ratify the Convention on Children’s Rights. You can, too, by visiting the Campaign for US Ratification at http://www.childrightscampaign.org/. This volunteer-driven network of academics, attorneys, child and human rights advocates, educators, members of religious and faith-based communities, physicians, representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), students, and other concerned citizens believes that children and youth are our most important resource in an increasingly interconnected global community. Even if the current Senate is unlikely to act, our letters, emails, petitions, and personal visits will keep this issue and our support before them.