There is a wealth of evidence that suggests that detention and family separation can have harmful effects on the physical and mental health of children, even after release. It is irresponsible for governments to adopt policies that not only violate domestic obligations under international law, but that will have an immensely detrimental and lasting impact on an already vulnerable population.
We strongly condemn the zero tolerance policy adopted by the Trump Administration in early April. Under this policy, all undocumented adults crossing the border into the United States were arrested and prosecuted, including those seeking asylum. As a result, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their families and put into federal custody.
Not only as parents and grandparents, but as human beings, we find it unconscionable for anyone to claim that this policy is justifiable. The simple and clear inhumanity of the policy has been amply showcased in the recording that captured voices of small Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents. So have the images of children locked in cages.
We welcome President Donald Trump’s recent reversal of this cruel policy. However, we will continue to monitor how the situation unfolds in the weeks ahead. We are concerned there is no clear plan to immediately reunite families that have already been separated. Moreover, we worry that this reversal is only a stop-gap measure because children will now be detained with their parents for an indefinite amount of time.
We commend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for calling this policy “wrong” and “unacceptable.” It is important that Canada take a strong stance on this issue. However, we must also lead by example at home.
While our official stance is that immigrant and refugee children shall only be detained and separated from their parents as a measure of last resort, hundreds continue to be subject to this punitive treatment for security or other related purposes. While the average time of detention is now less than two weeks, in some cases children have been detained for months and years at a time.
The forceful separation of immigrant and refugee children from their families is cruel. We must not forget that this vulnerable population is entitled to special consideration and protection measures. It is our duty to uphold, protect and fulfill their basic human rights, including the right to a family environment without discrimination because of immigration status.
Over the past few years, we have worked together to call on the federal government to not only end the immigration detention of children in Canada, but to reform our policies and practices. We believe, as many others do, that one child in detention is one too many.
The enforcement of this inhumane and cruel policy in the United States must inspire us to not only raise our voices on behalf of immigrant and refugee families, but to look closely at ourselves. Canada has an opportunity to play a leadership role by adopting viable alternatives to detention and family separation across the country, such as non-custodial alternatives that allow children to reside with their parents in the community. These kinds of alternatives would ensure that refugees and migrant families in Canada are treated in a more dignified, humane and respectful manner, and that their fundamental rights are respected.