MEXICO CITY, June 19 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. immigration policy that separates undocumented migrant children from their families and charges those families with human trafficking violates human rights, Mexican experts have said.
The experts said the move that was designed to discourage other would-be migrant families from trying to enter the United States has led to some 2,000 minors being separated from their parents or relatives since the policy was enforced in April.
"There is definitely a policy, I don't know whether to call it 'rigorous,' of not just charging them with illegal entry. The situation with human trafficking is something new," said Bernardo Mendez, a former Mexican consul in the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy that began in April applied to all adults, regardless of whether they cross alone or with their children.
Before he retired, Mendez spent 20 years attending to immigration cases in several U.S. cities including Atlanta, San Francisco, Tucson and Chicago. But he cannot recall any undocumented migrants ever being accused of human trafficking for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with their children.
Mendez said undocumented migrants were usually charged with breaking immigration law, and repeat offenders would potentially receive a sentence of up to six months in jail.
"There was no definition of a father who was traveling with his son being accused of human trafficking," said Mendez, who currently serves as director of America Without Walls, a non-governmental organization that works to raise awareness of the plight of migrants in the United States.
The U.S. policy has come under fire from many sectors in the United States, including from within Trump's own Republican party.
Mounting criticism and demands for transparency forced U.S. authorities to release official figures on Friday, revealing that 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults over a six-week period, from April 19 to May 31.
U.S. media on Monday reported that the children, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, were kept inside metal "cages" in a converted warehouse in the U.S. state of Texas.
On Tuesday, Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Luis Videgaray condemned the separation of families as "cruel and inhumane," and a clear "violation of human rights."
Mexico called on the U.S. government "to reconsider" the policy and "prioritize the wellbeing and rights of children."
Gretchen Kuhner, director of the Institute for Women in Migration, a Mexican organization specializing in improving the situation of migrant women and children, told Xinhua that "the separation of families at the border is immoral and violates the international rights of the family."
So far, U.S. authorities have not released the nationalities of the migrants affected by the policy, but Kuhner, a lawyer and migration policy expert, said families fleeing violence-torn Central American countries have become the main targets.
To justify its policy, the Trump administration has suggested that criminals are using children to pose as families in order to gain entry into the United States.
"Trump has ... criminalized migrants at every turn, but I think that he totally went over the line with the separation of families," said Ruben Figueroa, a member of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement that defends the human rights of Central American migrants.
The policy is part of Trump's efforts to control the 3,200-km-long U.S.-Mexico border, which also includes building a wall.
Mendez fears that the worst is yet to come. "It's very serious for these detentions to drag on for a long time .... If they are not going to reunite them (the children) with their families in the United States, it's very risky for these minors to return to their countries," said Mendez.