MANHATTAN (CN) – The day after a U.S. government official told Congress about the nearly 1,500 migrant children of whom authorities here lost track, a spokesman for the secretary general emphasized Friday that President Donald Trump has an obligation to the most vulnerable.
“What I can say is that he once more has made clear the need to treat all refugees and migrants with respect and dignity,” deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a press briefing. “That is particularly true in the case of children who are as you know in an especially vulnerable position. So their concerns need to be respected and listened to by authorities, particularly in cases where they may be isolated from their families.”
The spokesman said that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been informed about testimony from an official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the agency’s failure to find 1,475 children after making follow-up calls to check on their safety.
“He is aware of these reports,” Haq said, referring to Guterres. “Obviously, it’s up to the authorities to follow up and we trust that they will do so thoroughly.”
The Health and Human Services Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment into what efforts it has taken in coordination with international bodies.
U.S. senators expressed concern that the agencies actions left the children at risk for human trafficking.
“You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don’t even know where they are,” Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said, as reported by Time. “We are failing. I don’t think there is any doubt about it. And when we fail kids that makes me angry.”
The Senate hearing fell on a day of several alarming reports about the new U.S. policy ripping migrant children away from their parents in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions justified under the name of deterring illegal border crossings.
One report from the Arizona Daily Star opened with a description of a weeping mother forced to wear a yellow bracelet as her children had been taken away from her indefinitely. Another report, this one by the American Civil Liberties Union, says that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is attempting to destroy records of sexual abuse in immigrant detention centers.
Haq demurred when asked whether the secretary general spoke to Trump about the forcible-separation policy in their meeting last week.
“I don’t have anything to add to the readout that we put out at the time,” Haq said.
That readout was silent on migration, focusing only on the Middle East, the Korean peninsula and U.N. reform.
For New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar on authoritarian regimes, the missing migrant children in the United States recalled the plight of Chile and Argentina’s desaparecidos – with some differences.
“With an authoritarian regime come #desaparecidos,” Ben-Ghiat tweeted on Thursday night along with a report on the missing migrants.
While U.S.-backed dictators Augusto Pinochet and Jorge Rafael Videa intentionally targeted people for disappearance over political dissent, Ben-Ghiat noted in a phone interview these men had a mindset that Trump has admired in foreign leaders.
“Trump has been very admiring of how Duterte has handled his kind of drugs and criminals, and Duterte often boasts that he has pushed his enemies out of a helicopter, and he’d do it again,” Ben-Ghiat said today.
She noted Chile’s Pinochet infamously killed his political enemies through this same method.
“These strongmen kind of weaponize their bodies and they associate themselves with violence, even before they get to power,” the scholar added.
Ben-Ghiat finds disturbing echoes in that trend to Trump’s campaign speech from early 2016, boasting that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York without losing any supporters.
“That was the biggest red flag,” she said.
Ben-Ghiat believed that those looking for the United Nations to serve as a check on Trump’s immigration policy would be disappointed.
“I saw a lot of people saying, ‘Where is the U.N.?’” the scholar noted. “And my first and later reaction was sadness.”
“[The Trump administration is] the last people who are going to stand down because of anything the U.N. might say or do,” she added later. “I felt that it was a very genuine reaction, but I think that it’s not understanding the gravity of the situation.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has been accused of propping up strongmen like Videla and Pinochet, met with Trump for a photo opportunity the day the Russians were invited into the Oval Office, a coincidence not lost upon the scholar.