On August 16, 2018, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued two resolutions granting precautionary measures to migrant children affected by the Trump administration’s recent family separation policy. The IACHR acknowledged that the United States government is primarily responsible for “protecting the human rights of the persons under its jurisdiction” due to the principle of complementarity. Nevertheless, the Commission felt that the resolutions were necessary because the separated children were at risk of losing their “rights to family life and personal integrity as well as the right to identity”. In order to remedy this crisis, the IACHR asked the United States to put measures in places to protect these rights, that they guarantee the reunification of the separated families and children, and that until reunification can be accomplished they provide communication between these children and their families. The Commission further requested that the administration halt the separation policy as well as any immigration policy that seeks to separate children from their families.
The IACHR is not the only multinational organization concerned about the separation policy. The Organization of American States (OAS) recently approved a resolution presented by the government of Mexico and written in conjunction with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, that rejects the Trump administration’s immigration policies and asks for measures that will ensure family reunification. The resolution was adopted by consensus and sharply criticized the family separation policy for its failure to recognize “the human rights of migrant children and adolescents”. It noted that everyone has the right to seek asylum and/or refuge and that the best interests of the children affected by the policy must take precedence above all other concerns. The resolution also requested that human rights officers investigate the southern border of the United States to determine the full effect that the migration policy has had in the region.
The United States government already has a complicated history with the IACHR, which has only become more so in the case of the current administration. The U.S. delegation failed to show up to a March 2017 hearing for the first time in recent memory. The only explanation the administration provided for its historic absence was the fact that it did not feel comfortable discussing the issues under consideration due to ongoing domestic litigation. However, the IACHR was quick to point out that this issue has not stopped officials from previous administrations from participating in hearings, and that they have merely refrained from going into detail about matters referencing ongoing investigations. Even though previous administrations have had better relations with the IACHR, the United States has always sought to distance itself from the Commission. It has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which is the principal OAS human rights treaty, and it has treated the Commission’s decisions as recommendations that are rarely, if ever, complied with. It is doubtful that the current administration will break this habit.