family_separation_genocide

Is Family Separation Genocide?

Claim

Under the United Nations' definition of genocide, the Trump Administration's practice of permanently separating children from their parents is an act of genocide.

Rating

True

Reporting

In February 2019, a mid-2018 tweet about family separations and the permanent and widespread transfer of children from their families to other people qualifying as genocide began recirculating.

The tweet was initially published in June 2018, and it said:

Stealing someone’s child and then giving them to someone else permanently is not “adoption”.

It is a form of genocide.

It is what the United Nations defines as genocide.

A photograph seen above said (emphasis ours):

United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Significant background exists for the claim, and its relevance was not yet fully apparent to the American public when it was first published. At that time, the United States had just begun hearing of an unprecedented process of separating children from their parents when they approached the United States border to request asylum in accordance with international law. The policy was widely described as “family separation,” and its existence was at first flatly denied by border agencies. A June 2018 Vox article summarized the practice:

Dozens of parents are being split from their children each day — the children labeled “unaccompanied minors” and sent to government custody or foster care, the parents labeled criminals and sent to jail.

Between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children have been split from their parents. 1,995 of them were separated over the last six weeks of that window — April 18 to May 31 — indicating that at present, an average of 45 children are being taken from their parents each day.

To many critics of the Trump administration, family separation is an unpardonable atrocity. Articles depict children crying themselves to sleep because they don’t know where their parents are; one Honduran man killed himself in a detention cell after his child was taken from him.

But the horror can make it hard to wrap your head around the policy.

At that time, government denials the policy even existed stood in contrast to myriad news reports:

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen [in June 2018] attended a contentious White House press briefing, where she defended the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of thousands of children and their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border,” Nielsen told reporters. Yet the Trump administration, she said, “will separate those who claim to be parent and child if we cannot determine that a familial or custodial relationship exists.”

It was not immediately clear how Customs and Border Patrol agents would determine custodial relationships for children who did not possess identification documents.

Nielsen vehemently denied that the family separation amounts to a “policy,” asking a reporter, “Why would I ever create a policy that purposely does this?”

The situation unfolded against a backdrop of chaos and disinformation, and a January 2019 report in The Atlantic noted that the policy remains in disarray, is still going on, and has massive consequences:

The fact of what was happening dawned before the scope of it did: In the summer of 2017, immigration lawyers and judges began reporting that parents were arriving at immigrant detention centers without their children, who had been placed in custody elsewhere, sometimes thousands of miles away. Not until April of last year [2018], when a New York Times investigation found that some 700 children—many under the age of 4—had been separated from their parents after crossing the southern border illegally with them in the preceding six months, did the extent of the program become clear.

Though Donald Trump’s administration has intermittently denied that family separation was ever its policy, the litany of horrors associated with the policy lengthens. Toddlers screaming as they’re wrested from their parents’ arms. Children sleeping on the bare floor of cages. Parents getting deported to their home countries while their children remain in custody here. Children falling ill in custody. Border Patrol losing track of where certain children have gone. (When a federal judge ordered that children be reunited with their families immediately, it quickly became evident that border agencies had little idea how to do so.)

One day later, Rolling Stone cited a damning January 2019 report [PDF, “Separated Children Placed in Office of Refugee Resettlement Care”] carried out by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services; it indicated the policy was even broader in scope and length than originally believed:

The Department of Homeland Security may have separated “thousands” more children from their families than previously reported, according to a new report conducted by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. “More children” children were separated “over a longer period of time” than previously believed, Ann Maxwell, Assistant Inspector General for Evaluation and Inspections, said [in January 2019]. “How many more children were separated is unknown.”

According to the report, released Thursday, separations began as a result of a Trump administration policy issued in April 2017, an entire year before the well-publicized zero tolerance policy was rolled out in April 2018.

Acting under a court order, HHS was able to identify 2,737 children who were separated from their parents, but, the report says, that number does not include children who were separated before the “zero tolerance” policy took effect. Exactly how many children were separated remains unknown, Maxwell said, because HHS faced “significant challenges in identifying separated children.”

Subsequently, news reports centered on families affected by the border family separation policy, and additional coverage zoomed in on a harrowing detail — that no plan appeared to ever have existed to reunite the children with their families:

The government added that it has no way of tracking the children taken from their parents. A federal court ordered the Trump administration to end its family separation policy last year, after a successful lawsuit filed by the ACLU; on its website, the civil liberties organization called Friday’s filing a “a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them.”

Officials disclosed that reunification was neither planned nor considered as the policy was enacted and carried out:

Jonathan White, who leads the Health and Human Services Department’s efforts to reunite migrant children with their parents, said removing children from “sponsor” homes to rejoin their parents “would present grave child welfare concerns.” He said the government should focus on reuniting children currently in its custody, not those who have already been released to sponsors.

[…]

The administration outlined its position in a court-ordered response to a government watchdog report last month that found many more migrant children may have been split from their families than previously reported. The government didn’t adequately track separated children before a federal judge in San Diego ruled in June [2-18] that children in its custody be reunited with their parents … “The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead ACLU attorney.

At the time the original tweet was published, news of the border family separations was just reaching widespread attention. But the disclosures in January and February 2019 confirmed initial fears about the policy — that families separated at the border would never be reunited. In White’s own words, the Department of Health and Human Services did not intend to reunite the families to begin with, which in turn made the claims of the June 2018 tweet more relevant.

That tweet came down to a claim that “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” constitutes genocide under the United Nations’ definition as provided in its “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” The excerpted portion left out Article One of the 19-article convention, but it was not misleading. The preamble and first three articles are as follows, with relevant portions in bold:

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948

Entry into force: 12 January 1951, in accordance with article XIII

The Contracting Parties,

Having considered the declaration made by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 96 (I) dated 11 December 1946 that genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world,

Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity, and

Being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required,

Hereby agree as hereinafter provided:

Article I

The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III

The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

The June 2018 tweet accurately stated what the United States government later disclosed: that children of immigrants were forcibly separated from their parents in large numbers and given to another group. According to the United Nations’ definition of genocide, (Article II, Part E) defined one act of genocide as “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” Under that definition, the Trump Administration’s family separation policy constitutes an act of genocide, underscored by government disclosures in early 2019 conceding that families would not be reunified.