June 1 (UPI) -- Migrants rights activists called for international intervention in the United States' push to separate children from parents after crossing the border, a practice the Human Rights Watch called "cruel" Friday.
A coalition of four rights groups and legal organizations submitted a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- a body of the Organization of American States -- on Thursday, asking it to "immediately stop a human rights and humanitarian crisis perpetrated by the U.S. government in the Texas-Mexico border."
"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border," the attorney general said at the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.
During another speech in San Diego, Calif., Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said there were no new policies in place to separate children from families while crossing the border. The practice of separating children from their parents and placing them in foster care dates back to the George W. Bush administration.
But ICE separates adults from children if they are unable to determine whether the adult is a parent and whenever a parent is being prosecuted for a crime. As the Trump administration pushes to reach 100 percent prosecution of illegal crossings and increase prosecution of asylum seekers, more families are being separated.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said he hoped the crackdown would be a "tough deterrent" keeping would-be immigrants from entering the United States.
"Since early May, the Trump administration has separated over 658 children from their would-be-immigrant parents at the U.S. border under its unjust and cruel new 'zero tolerance' policy," Human Rights Watch said in a statement in support of Friday's National Day of Action for Children protests.
The complaint lodged with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said that in some cases, parents weren't told where there children have been taken.
"In one particularly chilling example, immigration agents told two immigrant mothers that they were taking their daughters away to the bath -- but they never returned, and the mothers have not seen them since," the complaint says.
The complaint asks the OAS to require the United States to reunite the five parents represented in the petition with their children and make sure no parent is deported without first allowing them to decide whether to take their children with them.
On Friday, dozens of groups demonstrated across the country as part of National Day of Action for Children calling for an end to the separation of families.