In Children’s Best Interests: Charting a Child-Sensitive Approach to U.S. Immigration Policy
76 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2020
Date Written: July 2020
For over a century, the “best interests of the child” standard has served as the cornerstone of a robust legal architecture erected by every state in the U.S. to safeguard the well-being of children, regardless of their immigration status. At the state level, the principle guides decision-making regarding a child’s custody, placement, and other critical life issues, such as access to services. A global consensus, embodied in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), has also embraced the best interests standard as the fundamental framework to guide decision-making involving children. But while the best interests principle is firmly rooted in domestic and international law, the U.S. immigration context remains an anomaly. The Trump administration’s systematic assault on the rights of immigrant children has illustrated the consequences of rendering immigration policy blind to the unique needs, vulnerabilities, and capacities of children.
This report synthesizes and builds upon presentations from leading scholars, practitioners, and advocates at a two-day symposium hosted at American University in February 2020. Part I of the report takes an exploratory and critical look at the best interests paradigm and its application in a range of relevant contexts, reflecting on the standard’s strengths and shortcomings. Part II catalogues the Trump administration’s policies and their harm both to children’s well-being and to the integrity of the immigration process. Part III concludes with recommendations for infusing basic child welfare principles into decision-making involving immigrant children and offers suggestions for how stakeholders can incorporate the best of the best interests standard while charting an even better way forward.
Keywords: Asylum, Central America, Children, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Immigration, Refugees, Trump Administration, United Nations (UN), United States of America (USA)
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