Washington Law Review


In April 2018, the Trump Administration publicly announced a new zero-tolerance policy for illegal entries at the U.S. border. This action kicked off a wave of family separations that made headlines and drew criticism from around the globe. Despite resounding condemnation of these actions, the Trump Administration defended its family separation policy as a “tough deterrent.” At least 2,600 families were torn apart in the ensuing months. And subsequent reports—from both the government and others—have detailed widespread abuses of and substandard conditions for children held in detention centers. The consequences of these separations and the maltreatment of children in detention are pronounced. The trauma that children have endured potentially has lifelong ramifications. This Article provides an indepth, children’s rights-based analysis of the Trump Administration’s family separation and child detention policies and actions. A children’s rights perspective offers several critical insights. First, children’s rights are rooted in a legal mandate. Second, examining the Trump Administration’s actions from a children’s rights perspective reveals the breadth of rights violations occurring. This more nuanced understanding of the events can help in devising appropriate strategies to respond to such violations. Third, a children’s rights perspective helps place the Trump Administration’s actions in their historical context to better understand the gravity of these actions. Children’s rights law is as close to universally accepted as any human rights law, and thus any departures from such widely embraced standards are particularly revealing. Finally, the authors discuss the implications of this children’s rights assessment, urging action on several fronts to address this harm and prevent violations of children’s rights in the future.

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