Protest at United Nations fights the separation of immigrant families

Editor’s note: Since this story posted, President Trump issued an executive order indicating that families could stay together when they are detained at the border, “where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.” What will happen to children already in detention remains unclear, and other elements of immigration and detention policies, such as caps on the number of days spent in detention, remain problematic.


As the cries of immigrant children reverberate across the country— cries recorded when they were cruelly separated from their parents at the border—Americans, including AFT members, are rising up in protest. AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a formal complaint to the United Nations on June 20, framing the inhumane immigration policy as abusive and trauma-inducing. Since the Trump administration has insisted on sticking with actions condemned by everyone from former first ladies to religious leaders and even some staunch Republicans, the AFT and numerous other powerful human and civil rights organizations have turned their “plea for justice” toward the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Randi at UN

“This is not a political issue,” Weingarten told the crowd gathered to watch a small group of leaders deliver the complaint at the U.N. “This is a human issue.”

“We are filing this complaint to the U.N. Human Rights Council in a plea for justice for the children and families subject to torture and gross violations of human rights as the result of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy promulgated and promoted by President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” the complaint reads. “This policy is intentionally separating children from their parents who are seeking asylum and protection from civil war, intolerance and social upheaval.”

The letter goes on to call the separations heinous, intolerable and unlawful, especially given that many families have already endured significant trauma in their home countries. Calling on the U.N. to recognize the right of asylum as fundamental to human rights principles, it also cites numerous U.N. treaties and protocols that protect refugees and asks the council to condemn the policy and call for its immediate revocation.

In addition to the U.N. event, the AFT is circulating the letter as a petition that anyone can sign, urging the UNHRC to take action. The petition has already collected tens of thousands of signatures.

The AFT has a long history of supporting immigrant communities, and counts many immigrants among its members and the people they serve. The organization maintains a comprehensive collection of resources for immigrant families, and AFT leaders, members and their locals have worked for years toward a more sensible and inclusive immigration policy, holding workshops to help families navigate immigration law, speaking out at rallies, telling their stories and working for legislation that would ease the terror in communities haunted by the imminent possibility of deportation. The family separation policies have been so heart-rending that they’ve become the most pressing among many immigration challenges.

[Virginia Myers, AFT communications staff]