Resolving Refugee Crisis at Border Stymied by U.S. Policy

Child from HondurasThe United States’ response to the refugee crisis that has developed at the US-Mexico border endangers the human rights of thousands of migrants. At the current pace, an estimated 90,000 children will arrive at the southern border by the end of 2014.[1] Many of these children have endured long, extremely dangerous journeys that involve the risk of rape, robbery, beatings, and sex trafficking.

The Obama administration has responded by “surging government enforcement resources to increase (the) capacity to detain individuals…,”[2] said Cecilia Muñoz, the White House director of domestic policy. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.”[3] These positions do not adequately recognize the nature of this international crisis and jeopardize human rights standards.

Many of these children and their families have chosen to travel thousands of miles because of worsening violence and a breakdown of the law stemming from gang related control of the region. These “gangs” or “transnational criminal organizations” more closely resemble political entities and exert significantly more power than conventional “gangs.” They claim territorial regions that span several countries; maintain control over politicians, the police, and military forces; and routinely use tactics including extortion, kidnapping, sexual assault, assassination, and mass execution.

As the rule of law breaks down in these regions, there are additional consequences to the safety and security of women and girls who are subject to increasing violence, domestic abuse, and sexual assault. The Advocates for Human Rights has helped several clients who are victims of domestic violence or who have been abducted and forced into slave-like conditions and treated like property. These clients often receive no help from local authorities and there is no hope for accountability for perpetrators.

Normally, a migrant who flees their home due to their opposition to a political entity has the opportunity to gain asylum in the United States if they can establish a well-founded fear of persecution based on their political opinion. However, in a series of legal decisions, the United States has set a precedent that denies asylum to thousands of would-be asylees, including children who oppose forced recruitment into gangs. In one case, a teenager was repeatedly persecuted by a gang in El Salvador due to his outspoken opposition as a leader of a local organization. The teenager was beaten unconscious on several occasions and was forced to watch gang members rape his female friends. This young man was found credible by a judge, but nonetheless denied asylum.[4]

The refusal of United States asylum law to recognize these refugees runs afoul of international human rights standards codified after World War II in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Further, the United National High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) has issued guidance urging a broader interpretation of United States law regarding gang based cases and in a recent study found that 58% of the unaccompanied children interviewed had international protection claims.[5]

In addition to this narrow interpretation of asylum law, individuals arriving in the United States are greeted with a detention system that treats them like violent criminals where migrants are jailed, including children and infants, in overrun and makeshift prisons. Immigrant detainees are often held in facilities that have deplorable conditions, are mixed with criminal populations, and are subjected to harsh disciplinary measures, such as solitary confinement.

The United States’ recent decision to reopen family detention centers is a mistake that exacerbates the risk of harm to families. When the Women’s Refugee Commission investigated a family detention center in Hutto, Texas in 2006, it discovered “babies in prison jumpsuits, families sleeping in cells with open-air toilets, highly restricted movement and only one hour of recreation per day. Detainees were subject to alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats to separate children from their parents.”[6] The facility was closed after public outrage and lawsuits, and the Obama administration’s decision to re-open family detention centers is a step backward. The administration’s decision to announce this on World Refugee Day further speaks to the United States’ failure to adequately recognize the arrival of these migrants as asylum-seekers.

As the humanitarian situation of asylum-seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras reaches critical levels, UNCHR has called on countries in the Americas to address this humanitarian crisis in a way that upholds their shared responsibility to protect displaced children, families, or adults who are in need.[7] In the United States, that requires changing the law to recognize all legitimate asylum seekers, ending dehumanizing detention policies, and developing new strategies and avenues for relief to support vulnerable migrants as opposed to shutting the door in their face.

By: Deepinder Mayell, director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program. Prior to joining The Advocates, Mayell was a staff attorney with Merrimack Valley Legal Services in Massachusetts where he represented poor victims of domestic violence in family, immigration, and housing proceedings. He has been committed to human rights issues throughout his career and has interned with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Human Rights Watch, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. As a research assistant, he examined the constitutionality of laws utilized to imprison individuals in Guantanamo Bay. In addition to his legal career, Mayell was a member of a research team that investigated and documented labor conditions in apparel factories in Jakarta, Indonesia. He also worked as a community organizer in Boston with a focus on youth empowerment and independent media. He received his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School in 2007 and a B.A. in Political Science from Boston College.

[1] http://www.npr.org/2014/06/20/323844514/single-women-with-young-children-inundate-u-s-mexico-border

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/20/politics/us-central-american-immigration/

[3] Interview with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on June 17, 2014 http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/17/politics/clinton-town-hall-what-to-watch/

[4] Jose Fuentes-Colocho v. Eric Holder, currently on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

[5] http://americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2014/06/18/92056/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-unaccompanied-minors-crisis/

[6] Press Release from Women’s Refugee Commission, June 20, 2014

[7] http://www.unhcrwashington.org/media-news/press-releases/un-refugee-agency-calls-regional-humanitarian-response-address-situation

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UN Special Procedures Urged to Visit Ethiopia to Investigate Crackdown on Oromo Protests

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Today, The Advocates for Human Rights, along with Human Rights First, the International Oromo Youth Association, Oromia Support Group Australia, the Oromo Community of Minnesota, the Oromo Studies Association, and World Without Genocide at William Mitchell College of Law, sent a letter to six of the United Nations’ special procedure mandate-holders, urging them to request and conduct country visits to Ethiopia to investigate actions taken by the Ethiopian Government in response to student-led protests in the state of Oromia.

The request comes on the heels of last month’s Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations Human Rights Council, where the Government of Ethiopia agreed to “grant full access to Special Rapporteurs and Special Procedures Mandate holders to visit the country, notably the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education,” and to “accept the outstanding requests for visits from the special procedures” of the United Nations.

The letter, addressed to the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, notes that country visits from these independent UN experts “are urgently needed because no entities in Ethiopia are able to conduct independent fact-finding.”

“Moreover,” the letter notes, “the situation is grave. The June 1 death of a student in custody suggests that demonstrators are being subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment while in custody.”

Click here to read the full letter.

More posts about the crisis in Ethiopia:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Ambo Protests: A Personal Account (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

Ambo Protests: Spying the Spy? (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

Ambo Protests: Going Back (reposted from Jen & Josh in Ethiopia: A Chronicle of Our Peace Corps Experience)

The Torture and Brutal Murder of Alsan Hassen by Ethiopian Police Will Shock Your Conscience (by Amane Badhasso at Opride)

#OromoProtests in Perspective (by Ayantu Tibeso at Twin Cities Daily Planet)

End “Tinkering with the machinery of death”

Electric Chair DoctorHarkening back to the 1800s, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law on May 22, 2014 that brings back the electric chair – a method of execution plainly fraught with error and considerable suffering. The new law allows Tennessee to electrocute death row inmates if the state is unable to obtain lethal injection drugs or if lethal injection is deemed unconstitutional. Lethal injection is currently the standard method of execution in Tennessee, as it is in all states that permit capital punishment. Existing Tennessee law allowed inmates convicted of an offense prior to 1999 to choose electrocution, although virtually no one did. The new law changes matters in that the state will be able to impose electrocution without providing inmates with any choice. The law becomes effective on July 1, 2014, and will apply to any person sentenced to death after that date.

The Tennessee law passed largely because of current complications surrounding lethal injections. The drugs required for lethal injection are becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to obtain. Foreign government regulations, European Union restrictions, and the refusal of drug companies to sell lethal injection drugs to states have limited the supply of such drugs. As a result, states have begun experimenting with untested and unchartered drug combinations and protocols to administer lethal injections. Compounding this issue is the fact that many states, including Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas, are obtaining drugs for lethal injection without disclosing the source. These new protocols have resulted in multiple botched executions, including that of Clayton Lockett last month.

Recent accounts of failed lethal injections are sadly reminiscent of botched electrocutions of the past. The electric chair, first introduced in the late 1800s, replaced hanging as the “preferred” method of execution. At the time, electrocution was considered a more humane alternative, but multiple accounts of the gruesome effects of electrocution make it clear that use of the electric chair is untenable. Based on empirical evidence and eyewitness testimony, Justice William Brennan described execution by electric chair as follows:

. . . death by electrical current is extremely violent and inflicts pain and indignities far beyond the “mere extinguishment of life.” Witnesses routinely report that, when the switch is thrown, the condemned prisoner “cringes,” “leaps,” and “fights the straps with amazing strength.” “The hands turn red, then white, and the cords of the neck stand out like steel bands.” The prisoner’s limbs, fingers, toes, and face are severely contorted. The force of the electrical current is so powerful that the prisoner’s eyeballs sometimes pop out and “rest on [his] cheeks.” The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool. “The body turns bright red as its temperature rises,” and the prisoner’s “flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking.” Sometimes the prisoner catches on fire, particularly “if [he] perspires excessively.” Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound “like bacon frying,” and “the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh” permeates the chamber. This “smell of frying human flesh in the immediate neighbourhood of the chair is sometimes bad enough to nauseate even the Press representatives who are present.” In the meantime, the prisoner almost literally boils: “the temperature in the brain itself approaches the boiling point of water,” and when the postelectrocution autopsy is performed “the liver is so hot that doctors have said that it cannot be touched by the human hand.” The body frequently is badly burned and disfigured. Glass v. Louisiana, (dissent from denial of certiorari) (citations omitted).

In 2001, Georgia’s Supreme Court held the electric chair to constitute cruel and unusual punishment (Dawson v. Georgia, 554 S.E.2d 137 (Ga. 2001))

At least in part due to these problems states began turning to lethal injection, and by the 1990s it displaced the electric chair as the United States’ favored means of execution. Again, this new alternative was seen as a more humane method of execution. However, as recent botched lethal injections make grimly obvious, lethal injection is also an untenable means of execution. Rather than face this reality, Tennessee has attempted to maintain the death penalty through a regressive law that reinstates the inhumane practice of electrocution.

Tennessee’s reinstatement of the electric chair will certainly face legal challenges. And supporters of capital punishment will no doubt cite In re Kemmler, an 1890 Supreme Court decision, as support for the constitutionality of the electric chair. But the decision does not stand for such a proposition. Kemmler declined to consider the validity (and thereby constitutionality) of electrocution. Kemmler simply held that the Eighth Amendment’s protections were not applicable to state actions through the Fourteenth Amendment (a holding that the Supreme Court has since reversed). Kemmler did observe, however, that “[p]unishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death . . . .”

The Eighth Amendment provides that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The Supreme Court has observed that the Eighth Amendment reaffirms the duty of government to respect the dignity of all persons, even those who commit heinous crimes. The Court has held that when determining whether a punishment is unconstitutional as “cruel and unusual,” it must look to the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” In recent years, the Court has applied this standard to limit the scope of capital punishment. For example, in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the Supreme Court held that intellectually disabled individuals could not be sentenced to death, as to do so was a form of cruel and unusual punishment that did not conform with “evolving standards of decency.” And just last month, in Florida v. Hall, the Court held that a Florida law that defined intellectual disability based strictly on a rigid IQ cutoff “creates an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed, and thus is unconstitutional.” The Hall decision reiterated the Court’s commitment to the evolution of “[t]he Eighth Amendment’s protection of dignity,” which, as Justice Kennedy said in his majority opinion, “reflects the Nation we have been, the Nation we are, and the Nation we aspire to be.”

Although the Supreme Court, in Baze v. Rees (2008), declined to hold lethal injection unconstitutional, that decision rested largely on the lack of sufficient “evidence regarding alleged defects in [lethal injection] protocols.” Recent events, namely the scarcity of lethal injection drugs and botched lethal injections inflicting severe and unnecessary pain, have provided just such evidence.

So where are we now? The answer to problems with lethal injection is not to regressively turn back to the electric chair, as Tennessee has done – both of these methods of execution have been shown to be cruel and inhumane. Indeed, the search for a “humane” way to execute people is a fool’s errand, certain to fail. If we are to live up to the Constitution’s protection of human dignity and recognition of evolving standards of decency, so that we can become the nation we aspire to be, the only answer is to recognize the unconstitutionality of capital punishment. The current state of capital punishment has reached its limit, and the nation should, as Justice Blackmun suggested 20 years ago, discontinue our “tinker[ing] with the machinery of death.”

The United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which prohibits torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, understood by the United States to mean the cruel and unusual treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.[1] The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a shadow report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the treaty body that oversees compliance with the ICCPR, detailing how the death penalty in the U.S. violates basic human rights, including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The Advocates was present at the Committee’s 100th session in Geneva, Switzerland in March, when the Committee took the U.S. to task on the death penalty and other issues. In its concluding Observations, the Committee urged that measures be taken to ensure that the death penalty is not carried out in a racially biased or erroneous manner and that lethal injection drugs come from legitimate sources.

[1] The United States has also ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but issued a reservation stating, “That the United States understands that international law does not prohibit the death penalty, and does not consider this Convention to restrict or prohibit the United States from applying the death penalty consistent with the Fifth, Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, including any constitutional period of confinement prior to the imposition of the death penalty.”

By: Steven M. Pincus, shareholder with the Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie law firm. His pro bono practice has included representing death row inmates from both Louisiana and Mississippi in post-conviction proceedings. Pincus is one of the lawyers who won the release of Albert Burrell from Louisiana’s death row. Burrell was exonerated and freed from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in January 2001, after spending more than 13 years on death row for a crime that he did not commit. 

Laura Gordon, a summer associate with Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie, contributed to the blog post.

Supreme Court Separates Families

Peace for ImmigrantsA fractured U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that children who “age out” of certain immigration categories must move to the back of the line and reapply in a new visa category, despite a federal law intended to protect such children. The ruling flies in the face of real life―U.S. immigration system’s delays are so long that families can wait decades to finally get to their chance to receive a visa.

Individuals who are over 21 are not considered “children” for immigration purposes and cannot be included on a parent’s immigration application. However, the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) allows children who turn 21 while an immigration petition is pending to continue to be considered “children.” But, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has said that children included on a parent’s visa petition do not benefit from the CSPA and must restart the immigration process from the beginning if they turn 21 before their parent’s petition is granted. Only children applying in their own right may preserve their place in line despite turning 21.

The case, Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osario (formerly known as Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osorio), turned on a question of statutory interpretation. A U.S. Supreme Court majority ruled that in the absence of clarity in the law, it must defer to the BIA’s restrictive interpretation. Though the question at issue seems arcane, the impact on immigrant families will be very real.

The U.S. immigration system is plagued by long wait times and delays. In some cases, people who applied in 1990 are only just now receiving visas. Families applying together, even with very young children, can easily end up waiting for visas until after their children turn 21. Through no fault of their own, the adult children are now not eligible to immigrate on the original petition. As a result of this Supreme Court decision, the adult children must reapply in a new category, separating the family and adding years or even decades to be reunited with family.

“The BIA has read the statute to include some but not all aged-out children,” said Deepinder Mayell, director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program. “This results in the unwarranted separation of families who have waited for many years to lawfully immigrate to the United States. Although the Circuit Court disagreed with the BIA’s application of the law, the Supreme Court deferred to the executive branch and the BIA to interpret immigration law.”

In The Advocates for Human Rights new groundbreaking report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today, immigrants identified the slow pace of the immigration system as a serious problem. “Legal immigration takes too long because of all the bureaucracy,” noted one citizen in the report.

A permanent resident said he was looking forward to becoming a citizen. But “to get there, we had to go through an asylum case and it took thirteen years to get there,” the person said. “The reason is because, every time we would win a case, the government immigration attorney would appeal and fight more, we would have to re-file our case, which meant spending more money.” This individual summed up his experience by saying, “it is kind of a reminder to those involved about the mistakes in the immigration system.”

Because of lengthy delays, one asylee whose case processed for 11 years said he had the “worst opinion that could exist of the immigration system and the people that work there that anyone could ever have. Because we were almost deported because of an error that immigration made and they never acknowledged their fault.”

Long wait times and the resulting family separation are consequences of immigration laws stretched to their breaking point. The Mayorkas case shows the limits of a piecemeal approach to reform. Single statutes cannot correct all the flaws of the system, inevitably leaving families and communities to languish.

By: Madeline Lohman, program associate with The Advocates for Human Rights’ Research, Education and Advocacy Program and a major contributor to Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Big news out of Hennepin County, Minnesota’s most populous county: Sheriff Rich Stanek and County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that Hennepin County will no longer honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) requests to detain people.

Hennepin County joins Ramsey County, its next-door neighbor, which instituted a similar policy in May.

ICE makes a detainer request when it identifies an individual in local custody it believes is in the United States without authorization, and asks the local law enforcement agency to hold the person until ICE can take the person into custody. These requests are not mandatory, and enforcing them can lead to violations of detained individuals’ constitutional rights. In many cases, individuals being detained and deported have no criminal record or have been arrested for minor crimes. Despite a probability that some arrests are unconstitutional, immigrants are transferred to ICE before any criminal proceedings are held; as a result, there are no reviews of the constitutionality of the initial arrests.

The Advocates for Human Rights recently released its groundbreaking report Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota, based on two years of interviews and fact-finding. Immigrants and advocates across Minnesota told of people detained and deported because of detainer requests. “One family, they were stopped for no reason,” reported one legal service provider. “Dad and son were referred to ICE. Local police made the stop, but there was never even a ticket.”

One advocate shared a police report involving a client who local police pulled over for not using a turn signal. The police report described how, when the driver failed to produce a valid Minnesota driver’s license and was unable to communicate in English, the officer called federal immigration officials. “I advised [them] of the situation… [and] the federal immigration officer advised me that [the driver] is illegal and he wants her held for deportation,” the police report stated. The police report lists charges of no proof of insurance, no driver’s license, and illegal entry.

Another person shared the story of an acquaintance stopped for expired license tabs while driving home from work. “He was picked up, taken to the county jail, and deported two weeks later,” this person said.

In a similar incident, a public defender described a situation in which a Latino individual who, after parking his car, was walking toward a restaurant when a patrol officer stopped him in his tracks and asked him for identification. The officer made no allegations of any violation of motor vehicle operation or suspicion of any criminal activity. When the individual failed to produce a valid Minnesota driver’s license, the officer arrested him, booked him into the county jail, and turned him over to ICE.

There is also the report of an individual who parked on the wrong side of the street to jump-start a friend’s car. The police stopped and asked him for identification. When he presented a Mexican matricula consular, he was arrested. He was booked into jail, interviewed by ICE under the Criminal Alien Program, and placed in deportation proceedings. The individual had no criminal history and no criminal charges were brought against him.

A legal service provider recounted the time a van leaving a work place was followed by a county sheriff. The law enforcement official pulled the van over and asked everyone inside for identification. While there allegedly was an arrest warrant for the driver, all of the passengers were turned over to ICE for questioning and placed in removal proceedings.

The Advocates welcomes the actions of Hennepin County and Ramsey County to join movement of ending cooperation with ICE in this regard. Other communities―in Minnesota and across the United States – are strongly encouraged to follow suit.

By: Madeline Lohman, program associate with The Advocates for Human Rights’ Research, Education and Advocacy Program and a major contributor to Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today.

Outstanding Human Rights Defenders Being Honored at Awards Dinner, June 25

Five people are being honored at The Advocates for Human Rights’ 2014 Human Rights Award Dinner, being held Wednesday, June 25 at the Hilton Minneapolis.  These individuals are integral components in The Advocates’ mission of advancing human rights here at home and around the world.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson will receive The Advocates’ 2014 Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.  Chimgee Haltarhuu will be honored with the organization’s Special Recognition Award, and Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, and Laura Tripiciano will each receive The Advocates’ Volunteer Award.

Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award  > Marilyn Carlson Nelson

mcn sqbrdNamed as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” by Forbes, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the former CEO and chairman of Carlson, is a fierce human rights defender. Under her leadership, Carlson―which includes such brands as Radisson Hotels, Country Inns & Suites, and Carlson Wagonlit―became the first major U.S.-based travel company to commit to training its hotel employees to watch for and report child sex abuse when she signed the travel industry’s International Code of Conduct to end sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. Her passion for human rights also invigorated efforts to defeat the Minnesota marriage amendment that was before the state’s voters in 2012. The op-ed she wrote for the Star Tribune went viral and encouraged other Minnesota business leaders to voice their support for LGBTI rights.

Carlson Nelson’s book How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership is a best seller. The book, a collection of anecdotes originally intended just for her family, will be available for purchase at the Human Rights Award Dinner;  15% of the book’s sales that evening will be donated to The Advocates, courtesy of Magers & Quinn Booksellers.

Chimgee HaltarhuuSpecial Recognition Award  >  Chimgee Haltarhuu

Chimgee Haltarhuu, a Mongolian immigrant living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, teaches and performs at Circus Juventas. She founded a circus group in 2010, Mission Manduhai, which travels to the far reach of Mongolia to put on free performances for nomadic herders to raise awareness about the problem of domestic violence. A survivor of domestic violence, Haltarhuu has helped The Advocates with its domestic violence work in Mongolia.

Volunteer Awards  >  Mark Petty, Julie Shelton, Laura Tripiciano

Mark PettyMark Petty, an attorney editor at Thomson Reuters, is an exceptional volunteer translator for The Advocates. He has donated more than 100 hours of Spanish and French translation work for the organization since 2012. “Mark is often one of the first people to respond to our requests for translators, and his turn-around time is unparalleled,” says Sarah Brenes, staff attorney for The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Julie SheltonJulie Shelton, an attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels in Chicago, has been an incredible volunteer with The Advocates’ Africa projects. Shelton has served as the team leader for a pro bono needs assessment in Cameroon, worked on a report on LGBTI rights in Cameroon, and wrote draft bills for post-conflict Somali law reform. “Julie has consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty,” says Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates’ deputy director and director of its International Justice Program.

LauraLaura Tripiciano, starting as an intern in law school, has volunteered for The Advocates for 17 years. Today, she is a private immigration attorney who represents asylum seekers. She has a particular devotion to Ethiopia, where her adopted son was born. Responding to The Advocates posting of a list of new cases in 2013, Tripiciano offered to take on all of the Ethiopian clients.  “Laura’s interest in serving our clients is genuine, her kindness is unsurpassed, and her dedicated advocacy is unquestionable,” says Sarah Brenes, staff attorney with The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

Please join in honoring these individuals at The Advocates’  Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 252014 at the Hilton Minneapolis. For more information and registration, click here.

In on the Action and Supported by Lobbying in D.C.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????With billions of dollars at stake under immigration reform legalizing undocumented immigrants (and reducing the number of people subject to detention), it should come as no surprise that Congress isn’t in a hurry to act. The Star Tribune June 5 article “Ellison seeks change after detainee reports abuse” points out one of the most troubling drivers of federal immigration policy: the detention business. The article notes that “as required by Congress,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detains at least 34,000 individuals across the country each day in a network of county jails, privately run contract facilities and federal facilities that cost taxpayers $2 billion each year” and that the “contracts to keep the ICE detainees have proved lucrative for private and public corrections facilities.”

To appreciate just how lucrative, look at the dollars that private prison companies are willing to spend on lobbying. According to Detention Watch Network, in 2013, the GEO Group, which operates one-third of the nation’s immigration detention beds, paid in-house lobbyists $1.2 million and outside lobbyists another $880,000 convincing Congress to act in the corporation’s interests. Minnesota counties have gotten in on the action. Minnesota’s Sherburne County jail, where an assault of an 18-year-old ICE detainee took place, is 10 years into a 30-year contract with federal immigration authorities and proudly touts that the “majority of bed space is rented to the federal government and generates significant revenue.”

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, director of The Advocates’ for Human Rights’ Research, Education, and Advocacy Program. Garnett McKenzie’s article appeared on the Star Tribune’s opinion page on June 9, 2014.