AFT President Randi Weingarten and other international leaders gathered in Geneva June 17 to demand that the United Nations Human Rights Council address human rights abuses against children at the U.S.-Mexico border. As they spoke against horrendous conditions in camps for immigrants, and the terror children as young as 4 months old experience when they are literally torn from the arms of their parents, the leaders’ messages were underscored by recordings of detained children crying and by teenage protesters who stood in cages, demonstrating the dehumanization of migrant children at the border.
“In the past five months, 2,500 children have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Weingarten told a crowd of about 100 people, adding that the actions continued despite a judge’s order to stop the separations and to reunify the children. “Six children have died [in the last six months],” she said. “We are saying to the Human Rights Council: Hear us and help us!”
Protesters held up enlarged photos of the faces of young children who have died at the border. “These families have done nothing wrong,” said Sandra Cordero, director of Families Belong Together. Yet they continue to be incarcerated at the border—a point Public Services International General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli made when she called out the ties between the private prison industry and family detention. “Human life is not a business,” she said.
“We stand here today in defense of humanity, justice and morality,” said Weingarten. “We are here in defense of children.”
The action is especially timely: as protesters listed the atrocities at the border, the UNHRC was meeting indoors, preparing to review a formal complaint against the Trump administration, whose anti-immigrant policies have perpetrated the abuse. The complaint, filed a year ago by the AFT, Public Services International, Education International, Mexican teachers unions, faith organizations, civil and human rights groups and more than 100,000 individuals, is under investigation by the council, which has plans to discuss it further this week.
Formal complaints are not the only action the AFT has taken to help immigrant families, many of whom have deep connections to our members and the people they serve in schools, healthcare facilities and other public spaces. The AFT has taken supplies to detention centers at the border—though the Trump administration prevented us from delivering them. We’ve supported the children in our schools whose parents have been suddenly deported. We’ve held workshops for immigrant families, offering guidance on how to protect themselves from deportation and offering plans and support should a family member be swept away by draconian immigration policy. And we’ve worked to protect our members in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Now the AFT stands up again, urging the United Nations to take action and stop the abuse at the border. Members can support these actions by writing a letter to the UNHRC.
“Children belong in school and with their families, not caged in detention centers,” the letter reads. “More than 2,500 children have been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border in the last year. In the past six months, at least six have died while in custody. Now is our opportunity to take a stand and encourage the U.N. to stop this.”