U.N. Calls on Trump Administration to Stop Separating Immigrant Children From Parents

The United Nations Human Rights Office asked U.S. authorities to "immediately halt" the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents on the southern U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday morning.

"We are deeply concerned that the zero tolerance policy recently put in place along the US southern border has led to people caught entering the country irregularly being subjected to criminal prosecution and having their children—including extremely young children—taken away from them as a result," wrote Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

The statement called on the U.S. to adopt "adopt non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families and fulfil the best interests of the child, their right to liberty and their right to family life."

In a briefing on Tuesday, Shamdasani called the practice a "serious violation" of children's rights and called the separations "arbitrary and unlawful."

The United States is the only UN member state not to have ratified the "Convention on the Rights of the Child." But it has ratified similar conventions, which means the country has legal obligations to all children in "it's care," explained Shamdasani.

A spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency also said it was closely monitoring the situation.

"Once again, the United Nations shows its hypocrisy by calling out the United States while it ignores the reprehensible human rights records of several members of its own Human Rights Council," said Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations. "We will remain a generous country, but we are also a sovereign country, with laws that decide how best to control our borders and protect our people. Neither the United Nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders."

This May, the Trump administration enacted a "zero tolerance" policy on the Mexican border by prosecuting all adults crossing into the U.S. and separating them from their children. The HHS is now required to fingerprint all immigrant parents coming forward to claim their children, creating a fear of prosecution for coming to collect them.

Although the policy was enacted by the Trump administration in order to deter immigrants from crossing the border, the president blamed Democrats in a tweet Monday. "Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats," he wrote. "Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can't get their act together! Started the Wall."

Around 550 children are currently in custody at the U.S. border and nearly 300 of them have spent more than 72 hours there, the time limit for immigrants to be kept in these temporary holdings, according to a report by NBC News. Half of those children are under 12 years-old. U.S. Health and Human Services currently has 11,200 unaccompanied children under its care, and takes an average of 45 days to place each child with a sponsor.

Hundreds of immigrant rights advocates and others participate in rally and and demonstration at the Federal Building in lower Manhattan against the Trump administration's policy that enables federal agents to take migrant children away from their parents at the border on June 1, 2018 in New York, United States. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Updated with statement from Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations.