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Family Separation is an Urgent Human & Civil Rights Issue

Every day in the United States, thousands of children are separated from their families and taken into government custody. In collaboration with fellow advocates JMACforFamilies and Angela O. Burton, Children’s Rights submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee urging them to hold the U.S. accountable for children’s and families’ right to family integrity.

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Key Facts

Every day in the United States, thousands of children are separated from their families and taken into government custody. This includes migrant children taken from their parents at the border, but also Black, Indigenous, and other children forcibly removed from their parents by the “child welfare” system—more aptly known as the family policing system. In fact, both groups of children often end up in the same government system, a system that places children at tremendous risk of harm.

Family separation violates the legal rights of children and their parents, including the right to family integrity and to be free from arbitrary interference in family life. While family separation of migrant children at the border has received the most media attention, similar cases of child removal and family separation happen every day in the United States.

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The U.S. government has acknowledged the harms the family policing system has inflicted on families. However, despite this recognition and condemnation, the U.S. continues to support legislation and policies that promote family surveillance, regulation, separation, and the termination of parental rights.  

In this report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Family Separation is an Urgent Human & Civil Rights Issue, Children’s Rights and our partners JMACforFamilies and Angela O. Burton are calling on the United States to uphold its human rights commitment under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to family integrity and to address the disproportionate harms inflicted on migrant, Black, and Indigenous families.

The human rights violations occurring in the U.S. family policing system have been increasingly recognized by other international bodies. In 2022, for example, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern regarding “the disproportionate number of children of racial and ethnic minorities removed from their families and placed in foster care.”

Family Separation is an Urgent Human & Civil Rights Issue powerfully demonstrates how the relationships of thousands of children and parents are severed each year for reasons that have little to do with the system’s stated goals of child safety, stability, and well-being. Once in the system, children pay a heavy price, including increased involvement with the criminal legal system, sex trafficking, and homelessness.

The report concludes with concrete recommendations for steps the U.S. must take to make sure that the right to family integrity and the harm of family separation is given appropriate consideration in federal laws and policies regarding immigration and child welfare.

We call on the government to:

  1. Ensure that all federal laws recognize the fundamental right to family integrity and center the known harms of family separation at every decision point in the child welfare and immigration systems.
  2. Collect additional data about the causes of family separation at the border, including laws and policies that result in voluntary family separation prior to families crossing the border.
  3. Hold a series of Congressional Hearings with public testimony to evaluate the harm of federal laws on families.
  4. Take all appropriate measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the child welfare system, amending or repealing any laws or regulations that perpetuate racial discrimination.
  5. Ensure that federal agencies communicate and collaborate regarding data collection, policies, practices, and initiatives to address homelessness, trafficking, and the foster system to criminal legal system pipeline.