The Trauma of Trump's Family Separation and Child Detention Actions: A Children's Rights Perspective

52 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2019 Last revised: 3 Nov 2020

See all articles by Jonathan Todres

Jonathan Todres

Georgia State University College of Law

Daniela Villamizar Fink

Kuck Baxter Immigration Lawyers

Date Written: November 5, 2019


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 as of 2019, reports—from both 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 has potentially lifelong ramifications. This Article provides an in-depth, children’s rights-based analysis of the Trump Administration’s family separation and child detention policies and actions. A children’s rights perspective has 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.

Keywords: Children's Rights, Human Rights, Discrimination, Immigration, Border, Trauma, Refugees, Children, International Law, legal education

JEL Classification: K37, K10, K33, K30, F22

Suggested Citation

Todres, Jonathan and Villamizar Fink, Daniela, The Trauma of Trump's Family Separation and Child Detention Actions: A Children's Rights Perspective (November 5, 2019). Washington Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 1, 2020, Georgia State University College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-07, Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan Todres (Contact Author)

Georgia State University College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States

Daniela Villamizar Fink

Kuck Baxter Immigration Lawyers ( email )

365 Northridge Rd
Atlanta, GA 30350
United States

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