For months, we've seen images and read reports of our government's callousness toward migrant children captured after crossing the U.S. border. Large numbers of children remain separated from their parents. Their numbers in detention facilities are soaring, and several allegations of abuse have been reported.
Regardless of their motives for coming here, young children do not belong in holding cells waiting for their cases to be heard. It's in the best interest of all involved to ensure migrant children are being treated humanely and justly while going through the immigration court system.
The only proper way to address the human rights crisis at the border is to introduce independent oversight by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in coordination with the Office of Inspector General. The GAO should conduct an audit to determine if current immigration policies and procedures are effective and adhere to U.S. treaty commitments to protect human rights. Any abuses discovered during the audit should be referred to the inspector general's office for follow-up.
It's up to Congress and President Donald Trump to reach a permanent, long-term fix to the nation's broken immigration system. But in the short term, the government must safeguard the rights of migrant children in its custody. Independent oversight is essential in three main areas: the reunification of families, living conditions in detention facilities and verifying the numbers of children being detained.
The Trump administration began forcibly separating children from their parents in its zeal to enforce a zero-tolerance immigration policy. Before the policy was walked back in June amid a national outcry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had separated more than 2,300 families. About 500 children remain separated, despite a judge's order two months ago to reunify them with their families.
The GAO can determine whether the government has devoted the effort and resources necessary to track down parents who have already been deported. A recent report found that the number of migrant children in detention has skyrocketed to a record 12,800, according to The New York Times.
That's a fivefold increase from the 2,400 children in custody just over a year ago. A Trump administration rule change seeks to detain these children indefinitely. The rise in detentions isn't because more children are crossing. It's because the administration wants to use separations as a deterrent.
There are numerous allegations about detention-facility conditions, such as children kept in frigid temperatures, neglected or abused. Kevin McAleenan, the head of Customs and Border Protection, planned a border trip to see how the agency's facilities can be modified to better care for families and minors.
Self-monitoring hasn't worked in this agency. The GAO must be empowered to inspect and seek documents needed to uncover the extent of the problems.
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