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U.S. authorities must put an immediate end to both the separation and detention of children and families who come to the US border with Mexico seeking asylum, while also immediately reuniting the thousands of families who remain separated as a result of the Trump administration’s unlawful and damaging policies, said Amnesty International ahead of the Global Day of Action against these practices planned for June 30.

Amnesty International USA, along with coalition partners from Families Belong Together, are rallying members and supporters to join mass protests across the country. Protests are being planned in Washington, DC, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities. You can find the full list of protests here.

“Since the beginning, President Trump has shown callous disregard toward mothers, fathers, and children who only want to find safety,” said Ashley Houghton, tactical campaigns manager at Amnesty International USA. “Last week’s executive order presents a false choice to people seeking protection. Detaining families is not the solution to ending family separation. Every family approaching the border must be treated with dignity and respect. The administration must end the cruel and unnecessary practices of family separation and detention.”

In the executive order signed on June 20, President Trump mandated that children be incarcerated with their parents in immigration detention centers while their asylum claims are processed. To implement the order, which conflicts with U.S. law, the government is seeking an exemption from the court-ordered Flores Settlement Agreement that mandates that children should be released from detention without delay and within no more than 20 days.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has since issued a series of statements making clear that family separations could continue for the foreseeable future.

Although the Trump administration only formally announced the separation of families as a deterrent measure under the “zero-tolerance policy for criminal illegal entry” on 6 April 2018, Amnesty International has found that this practice has been in use since at least the beginning of the administration, including against people who presented themselves at ports of entry to exercise their right to apply for asylum.

Accounts of forced separation

Amnesty International researchers visited the U.S.-Mexico border in April and May 2018 to document the treatment of asylum seekers. In the majority of cases of family separations that the organization documented, the families had presented themselves lawfully at official border crossings in order to seek asylum, and U.S. authorities offered them no justification for the separations.

In one case, a 39-year-old Brazilian woman and her seven-year-old son fled their home country after receiving repeated death threats from gang members, whom she had denounced for dealing drugs in front of her home. The gang members were collaborating daily with local police and said they would kill Maria and her son no matter where they fled to in Brazil.

Speaking to Amnesty International at an immigration detention centre in Texas, she said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents separated her from her son without giving any reason the day after they requested asylum at an official port of entry in March 2018.

“They told me: ‘you don’t have any rights here, and you don’t have any rights to stay with your son,’” she said, in tears. “I died at that moment. It would have been better if I had dropped dead… Not knowing where my son was, what he was doing. It was the worst feeling a mother could have. How can a mother not have the right to be with her son?”

In another case, a 63-year-old woman from Honduras told Amnesty International that gang members threatened to kill her and her 14-year-old granddaughter and burn down their home. They fled Honduras immediately, having known of others who had been killed by the gang after seeking assistance from police or moving to other parts of the country.

After more than a year in a detention centre in Texas, the woman told Amnesty International that CBP agents separated her from her granddaughter two days after they sought asylum at a port of entry in Texas:

“They didn’t tell me why they were taking her. They just told me they were going to separate her from me. If they send me back, what am I going to do? I’m going to die in Honduras,” she said. “I’m 63 years old and I just can’t take it anymore. There are days that I’m very desperate and sad. It’s been a very long time I haven’t seen my family.”

Many parents who were forcibly separated from their children showed extreme anguish, weeping uncontrollably at points while recounting their stories to Amnesty International. The organization found in cases it documented that the forced separation of families, with the stated aim of deterring and punishing asylum seekers requesting protection at US borders, meets the definitions of torture under US and international law.