It’s Time to Take a Stand

Child from HondurasIt’s time to stand for welcome and to raise your voice to meet the critical needs of children and families seeking refuge. Your voice is needed to ensure that children and families seeking refuge retain access to compassion and justice.

A bill introduced this week in the U.S. House, if passed, would be devastating for children, asylum-seekers, families, refugees, and other vulnerable migrants. On Tuesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced his Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill (H.R. 5230) to address thousands of children and families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking safety in the United States.

The funding measure is a wholly inadequate response to address children and families seeking refuge in America and fails to live up to our legacy as a nation of welcome for those fleeing persecution. International human rights standards require the United States to ensure that everyone seeking safety at our borders is met with the real opportunity to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

It is incumbent upon Congress to approve increased funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that protects refugee services, ensures adequate funding for the Department of Justice, and rejects the harmful practice of family detention.

The House is poised to vote on this bill as early as today, Wednesday.

Among other troubling provisions, the House proposal would:

  • Drastically underfund the ORR, the government agency responsible for serving resettled refugees, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations as well as providing shelter and care to unaccompanied children in the United States.
  • Roll back critical legal protections for children included in the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008.
  • Increase the number of mandatory detention beds to keep vulnerable families with children behind bars
  • Expedite processing that will result in individuals with fear of persecution falling through the cracks.
  • Order the Department of Justice to rely more on videoconferencing in immigration courts and temporary Immigration Judge teams instead of increasing access to justice.

Your action is urgently needed
Make a difference for these children and families. Urge the House to oppose H.R. 5230 and instead, shelter and protect the children and families fleeing violence, persecution, and torture.

Contact your Representative by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, or find their direct office lines on their websites at

Tell them:

  • As your constituent in [city, state] and a person of faith, I care about refugee children and families. Therefore, I urge you to oppose H.R. 5230, a funding measure that would have a devastating impact on vulnerable persons.
  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement must receive at least $1.2 billion for 2014, far more than this bill would provide
  • The Department of Justice also must receive funding sufficient to provide children with access to legal services
  • I am also deeply opposed to imprisoning children and families who have arrived at our borders seeking refuge
  • Finally, I urge you to oppose any changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008—children fleeing violence and seeking refuge deserve compassionate treatment, not detention, and meaningful access to protection and legal relief

Contact Michele Garnett McKenzie at and look at The Advocates’ resources on the issue.

Stay tuned
The Senate will consider its own supplemental funding measure in the next couple of days. We will keep you posted as the situation unfolds.


Execution in Arizona Takes 2 Hours

Execution in Arizona Takes 2 Hours


“‘Joe Wood is dead, but it took him two hours to die,’” Troy Hayden of Phoenix’s KSAZ-TV and an eyewitness to the execution of Joe Wood was quoted as saying in a July 23 NPR story. “‘And to watch a man lay there for an hour and 40 minutes gulping air, I can liken it to, if you catch a fish and throw it on the shore, the way the fish opens and closes its mouth.’”

“The Arizona Department of Corrections began the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III at 1:52 p.m. At 1:57 p.m. ADC reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe. At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. At that time, staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive. This execution has violated Mr. Wood’s Eighth Amendment right to be executed in the absence of cruel and unusual punishment,” stated the emergency motion filed by Wood’s attorney to stay the execution on the grounds that it violated Woods’ constitutional rights. The motion called for reviving Woods, but he died within an hour of the papers being filed.

States’ experiments with new, untested lethal injection protocols are real-life — or real-death — demonstrations of what can go wrong when governments are allowed to execute people using untested and dubious execution methods. “The experiment using midazolam combined with hydromorphone to carry out an execution failed today in Arizona,” said Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorney, in the NPR report. “It took Joseph Wood two hours to die, and he gasped and struggled to breath for about an hour and forty minutes. We will renew our efforts to get information about the manufacturer of drugs as well as how Arizona came up with the experimental formula of drugs it used today.”

Read the full story from NPR News, “Arizona execution of inmate takes nearly 2 hours” (July 23, 2014).

Read more about the death penalty in the United States from The Advocates Post:

 Bring Back the Firing Squad (July 22, 2014)

End “Tinkering with the machinery of death”  (June 18, 2014)

Another Botched Execution (April 30, 2014)

Lives on the Line: Will Supreme Court Hold U.S. Accountable for the Death Penalty? (April 3, 2014)

“I did not want to live like an animal…,” death row exonoree tells U.S. Congress (February 28, 2014)

Dennis McGuire’s Execution: A Real-Life—or Real-Death—Example of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment (January 17, 2014)

Was Executed 14-Year-Old Innocent? (November 8, 2013)

Two Percent of U.S. Counties Responsible for Majority of Executions (October 14, 2013)

By: Ashley Monk, development & communications assistant at The Advocates for Human Rights

“Bring Back the Firing Squad”

“If we, as a society, cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all,” wrote Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Federal Judge Alex Kozinski in a dissent released Monday. Kozinski dissented from a Ninth Circuit decision dismissing Arizona death row inmate Joseph Wood’s lawsuit seeking information about the drugs to be used in his execution. Kozinksi was quoted by Adam Serwer in his commentary, “Judge’s modest proposal: Bring back the firing squad,” posted on MSNBC’s website on July 22, 2014.
Read more about “mystery drugs” and the secrecy behind their use:


If we fail them, “their hell will increasingly become our own”

Child from Honduras“. . . [T]wo superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union — chose our region [Central America] as a place to work out their disputes. They were eager to help Central America transform students into soldiers,” Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, wrote in the July 18 Washington Post. “They were eager to provide the weapons while we provided the dead.”

“When Central America’s leaders found a way to end those conflicts, I thought that our achievement would be rewarded with aid and with support to help us make the transition from war to peace, to get our young people back in school, to retrain soldiers and to rebuild families,” Arias wrote. “However, once the bullets stopped flying, the two superpowers lost interest.”

“All of us — the United States and its neighbors to the south — are paying the price for this lost opportunity. In Central America’s Northern Triangle, soldiers and guerrillas have been replaced by gang members. Civil wars have been replaced by street wars. Mothers no longer cry because their children are marching off to battle. They cry because their children are falling victim to another kind of violence or because they have to send them in search of a better life.”

Read more of the opinion article written by  Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) and 1987 Noble Peace Prize recipient:


Taking Stock of U.S. Involvement in Central America

Child from Honduras

“Today, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are horrifyingly dangerous places. Children are fleeing. The response from much of Congress and the tea party has been to argue for the repeal of immigration laws so that the U.S. can quickly deport the children back to their devastated home countries,” reports Ryan Grim in a July 18, 2014 HuffingtonPost article, “Here’s How the U.S. Sparked a Refugee Crisis on the Border, in 8 Simple Steps.”

But that is an abdication of responsibility, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, told Grim. “Just on basic humanitarian grounds we should do the right thing by these kids and accept them as refugees — or the legal term is ‘asylum seekers’ — but we also own this problem, we have culpability in it, whether it’s our involvement with thuggish governments there in the past, or whether it’s the fact we are the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs that are transited through these countries, or whether it’s the war on drugs that we’ve foisted upon these countries,” he said. “All of those things contribute to the destabilization, the insecurity, the failed governance, the lack of civil society development. So, one, we should help now that we’ve done so much to create this situation and, two, we should work constructively with regional partners to rebuild these societies to the best that we can.”

Read “Here’s How The U.S. Sparked A Refugee Crisis On The Border, In 8 Simple Steps,” written by Ryan Grim and printed on HuffingtonPost, July 18, 2014.

We Should Be Better Than This

Child from Honduras

“This is not the best face of a great nation. This is the underside of a great stone, which when lifted sends creepy things slithering in all directions. We are better than this. We are more compassionate than this. We are more honorable than this.”

Read more of The New York Times’ Charles M. Blow’s powerful essay

A Nation of Immigrants Turns Its Back

Child from Honduras

Don’t call hundreds of thousands of people a “border crisis” and a “problem.” Start realizing that they’re refugees, whether officially stamped or not.

I’ve never been crazy about the Fourth of July, and in fact, I’ve only had about five of them in the U.S. – the others I’ve spent with my mum’s family in England. There, I buy into the supposed British national identity – from the importance of manners and stiff-upper-lipping to queuing and loving Andy Murray. Of course, these are shocking generalisations and I would never call England perfect (any such nonsensical praise would, incidentally, be highly un-British of me), but I’ve always been more into the Union Jack than ‘Murica and all it professes to stand for. And as I studied U.S. history and government, I became frustrated by the shallowness of those avowed ideals.

In high school, I wrote essay after essay on instances of American hypocrisy in its failure to live up to its rhetoric of ‘liberty,’ ‘freedom,’ etc., beginning when Columbus sailed the ocean blue; I contrasted the lofty language of the Declaration of Independence with reports on the status of women and the number of slaves in the U.S. in 1776; I juxtaposed FDR’s insistence on the importance of fighting the racism of the Nazis with the intense inequality and segregation in the U.S. Army; I compared the highfalutin ‘fighting for freedom’ language of the Cold War with exposés on American support of coups in Latin and Central America that have impacted these regions for generations to come. Why, I wondered, could the U.S. seldom translate its worthy ideals into actual policy? Why did realpolitik have to come at the expense of the human rights of American citizens and people all over the world?

Before you disparage my cynicism, let me say that I am extremely grateful to have grown up in the U.S. – the land of AYSO soccer, Trader Joe’s, and other national treasures – and to have profited from its many advantages – a widespread liberal arts university system, incredible diversity, a passport that can get me into 172 countries without a visa. My exasperation comes from seeing our potential fall so flat in situations where we can be a leader in expanding universal human rights, and in seeing the way we treat others who die to grow up here, too. And in the past couple weeks, that fall has been steep.

Supreme Court decisions were the first blows. Gail Collins expressed my feelings about the ruling on abortion clinic buffer zones, McCullen v. Coakley, in her June 27th New York Times column: “We do not have time to discuss this in detail, except to point out that this decision came from people who work in a building where the protesters aren’t allowed within 250 feet of the front door.” After the Hobby Lobby decision, which ludicrously violated both women’s rights and legal sense, I was feeling pretty down. I thought I was done with bad news when the U.S. was heartbreakingly eliminated by Belgium in the World Cup. Then I read the latest in a series of news stories about the current humanitarian crisis at the southern border. And there was no Tim Howard left to save us.

In the week leading up to July 4th, the holiday intended to celebrate America’s so-called values of freedom, democracy, diversity, and equality, residents of Murrieta, California turned away three busloads of single mothers and their children who were to be registered in their town. Over the past few months, these women and children were among 240,000 migrants and more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors to cross the border. Before they wallowed in their successful rejection of mothers and children, Murrieta residents summed up their grievances to the press and their elected officials. Said, one resident, Jodie Howard, “What happens when they come here with diseases and can overrun our schools? How much is this costing us?” We’ll come back to that one, Jodie. Said another resident in a town hall meeting featuring a panel of federal officials, “How do you know they are really families and aren’t some kind of gang or drug cartel?” Excellent question, sir! Never fear – I’ll answer that one later, too. Said one woman, shaking her head gravely, “We need to close the border and tell these parents that this is wrong.” Yes, because the parents of the more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors flooding into the U.S., primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are fundamentally irresponsible and believe that they are sending their children for a joyride.

Unfortunately, the offensive sentiments of these Murrieta residents have not been totally quashed by elected officials. President Obama told George Stephanopoulos, “Our message absolutely is don’t send your children unaccompanied, on trains or through a bunch of smugglers.” Hillary Clinton sent a similar message in a CNN town hall interview: “Just because your child crosses the border, it doesn’t mean that child gets to stay.”

Of course, the more than 90,000 unaccompanied children who will have crossed the border by the end of 2014 cannot be accepted without question into the U.S. – immigration policy is not so simple. But my initial reactions to these remarks had little to do with political change, and everything to do with the complete lack of dignity in the treatment of and the conversation about what happens to these children and their parents.

This summer, I’m interning at The Advocates for Human Rights, an organization that provides pro bono lawyers for asylum seekers (people who fear returning to their home country because they have faced persecution in the past or fear future persecution). In the past few months, the number of callers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador has dramatically increased. There are 14-year-old boys who have been tortured and whose families have been threatened because they refuse to join gangs; there are women who have been gang-raped and who have watched their family members be brutally murdered. Many of these callers are detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) because they crossed the border into the U.S. without a visa. In detention, on top of the trauma they’ve suffered, they’re forced to wear orange jumpsuits and are presented in immigration court in handcuffs. A few days ago, our organization received a letter in which more than forty detainees listed their complaints against the harsh treatment they had received. Instead of receiving a chance at the American Dream, they said, they are being treated like criminals.

American immigration law is as complicated as it is unforgiving. There are five grounds on which one can file for asylum: political opinion, race, nationality, religion, and membership of a particular social group. A potential asylum-seeker must prove that he/she has faced persecution from the government or groups that the government cannot control on the basis of one of these grounds. The U.S. government has, over and over again, refused to recognize that gangs constitute such a source of persecution and that being a non-gang member is a legitimate ‘social group.’ So I know that when I pick up the phone, the chances of my being able to promise anything to a citizen of Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala who has been subjected to gang violence and threats are despairingly low.

These callers have been through hell. I know that they will most likely not be able to remain in the U.S., but the least I can do is put myself in their shoes for forty-five minutes and listen as they pour out their haunting stories – of cousins and brothers killed by gangs for helping the poor, of domestic abuse, and of an environment that offers no escape – and hopefully offer some words of comfort from my limited Spanish vocabulary.

Yesterday, we interviewed three children who had come from Central America because gangs had taken over their lives: they demanded money that their single mother could not pay; they stalked them every day after school. They told us, “We came to the U.S. because we just want to study.”

So, Murrieta resident, you ask how we can be sure that these kids aren’t leading drug cartels? Please, ask that to the 8-year-old who traveled for a month in a bus with forty other kids so that he could finally escape the pandillas that would beat him up and pressure him to traffic drugs instead of going to school. And, Jodie from Murrieta, you call them diseased? Millions of Americans, you call them ‘illegal aliens?’ Elected officials, you refer to them as a ‘problem?’ I call them some of the bravest and most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to talk to.

*          *          *

On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty reads a line from Emma Lazarus’s poem “New Colossus.” Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. About a hundred years ago, members of my family fled persecution and came to the U.S., semi-legally (we had a couple of sponsor letters – that was about it) and passed the lady with the torch. They were incredibly grateful to be welcomed into the U.S., and they were granted entry because America considered them potentially useful citizens. The thousands of refugees coming through the Southern border are not being treated with equal respect. Thanks to American policies from the turn of the century, American industry and culture was enriched by thousands of immigrants from Europe and Asia. These immigrants, for the most part, left to seek their fortune in the U.S. The unaccompanied minors streaming across the border do, of course, wish for economic opportunity in the U.S. However, the vast majority of them risk their lives to cross the Rio Grande because they know that they will be threatened, tortured, raped, and killed if they stay in their home countries. For these children and their parents, a deportation notice is a death sentence. They are not immigrants; they are refugees, and should be treated with compassion, dignity, and policy that treat them according to their situation.

Yet thanks to our callous rhetoric and policy, we are, as Maureen Dowd put it in her July 6th column, “A nation of immigrants watched over by the Statue of Liberty — with a government unable to pass immigration reform despite majority support — [seeing] protesters take to the streets to keep Hispanic children trying to cross the border from being housed in their communities.”

What happened in Murrieta was more about respect than policy. The latter is a topic for many more articles (although I will say now that investing in increased services for immigration judges and asylum officers might be better than chucking more border guards into Texas). But respect is not to be overrated; it can be the beginning of policy. Don’t call hundreds of thousands of people a “border crisis” and a “problem.” Start realizing that they’re refugees, whether officially stamped or not. And the changes in our immigration system will follow.

It is high time for the U.S. to take responsibility for its actions and its promises. The most prominent gangs in Central America – MS and 18 – took over when we deported their founders from Los Angeles to Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries. We must realize that the vast majority of these refugees have no state to return to, for theirs have abandoned them. They hear our promises and come to our border. If we want to turn them away, we can no longer claim to stand atop a moral pedestal. If we want to live up to our assurances and to accept that we are a nation of immigrants, we must promote the “self-evident” truths of the Declaration. After all, these were supposed to transcend nationality, for the Americans claimed the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without controlling their own independent state. These rights were supposed to be universally guaranteed because “all men are created equal.” I’ve always resented the founders for choosing “men” over “people,” since history has narrowly translated “men” to mean “old white males.” Lately, I clench my fists because of those who use our flag as a wall to block the people who sacrifice everything for a chance at these rights.

So, yeah, I didn’t watch the fireworks this year. Happy Birthday, America.

By: Charlotte Finegold, a sophomore at Yale University and a resident of New Jersey, is a summer intern for The Advocates for Human Rights, working in its Refugee and Immigrant Program. “A Nation of Immigrants Turns Its Back” was first printed in The Politic, the Yale Undergraduate Journal of Politics.