Migration Not Border Security Problem; People Like Us Face Perilous Choices

Photo credit: ALJAZEERA AMERICA
Photo credit: ALJAZEERA AMERICA

The capsize of a ship overloaded with migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean has galvanized attention on what The New York Times characterizes as a surge in refugees from throughout the Middle East and North Africa. With, as The Times reports, “about 17 times as many refugee deaths in the Mediterranean Sea from January to April compared to the same period last year,” the human tragedy unfolding is shocking, particularly to those of us who have never faced such a perilous choice.

But while calls for a naval blockade continue to be heard, a more nuanced take on Fortress Europe and the obligation to consider human dignity have surfaced. Pope Francis, who last year urged European leaders not to allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery, reminded those gathered for his weekly address that the migrants whose boat had foundered are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war.

Even European leaders who according to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli have long been “pressed by anti-immigrant parties… are now facing a backlash for having neglected the humanitarian disaster taking place in the waters of the Mediterranean.” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi struck a new note when he said: “We are asking not to be left alone. Our political priority is not just a security issue. We want to ensure the dignity of human beings and block human traffickers. The new slave traders of the 21st century must not believe that Europe considers this one of the least important issues on its agenda.”

The recognition that migration is more than a border security issue is one the United States needs to take seriously.

Several weeks ago NPR’s Steve Inskeep had a rather horrifying exchange with Simon Henshaw, the U.S. State Department deputy secretary charged with explaining how the United States’ is fulfilling its international refugee protection obligations despite its multifaceted deterrence strategy through a recently-opened process for Honduran children whose parents are permanent residents to enter the U.S. more quickly than the normal visa backlog allows:

INSKEEP: Does it bother you, though, that there may be a young person who asks
for help and then has to go away from a U.S. consulate and go back into the neighbor-
hood where their lives have been threatened?

HENSHAW: Yes, it does. But what really bothers me is the thought that that child
might take a risky journey through Mexico and come to the United States. So what
I want to do is make sure that our program addresses their situation as fast as possible.”

Yes, Mr. Henshaw, La Bestia is dangerous. But even more dangerous is abandoning the fundamental right to non-refoulement – to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

Last December NPR’s Robert Siegal summed up the Obama Administration’s official word: “if you, a child in Central America, try to come up North, you’ll be put in detention; you’ll be sent back; you’ll be flown back home.”

In a report released this month, Detention Watch Network traced the role of deterrence strategies in U.S. immigration policy, noting that the Obama administration’s “recent reliance on the deterrence justification to rationalize the long-term detention of asylum-seeking families marks a new level of aggressive and inappropriate use.”

The human rights violations endured by asylum-seeking families are numerous. Included in the (very long) list of violations flagged by The Advocates for Human Rights and Detention Watch Network in a joint submission to the UN last year was the growing use of detention to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection in direct contravention of international obligations.[1] We pointed to Central American mothers and children seeking asylum being subject to arbitrary detention in a stated effort by the United States to deter asylum seekers from coming to the United States.[2]

Detention and deportation to deter people from seeking asylum from persecution (in direct contravention of this fundamental human right) is not the only tactic being used by the United States. The Los Angeles Times reports that “under U.S. pressure, Mexico for the first time in many years has launched a wide crackdown on the migrants. More than 60,000 have been deported this year, as many as half in recent months, the government says.” Also on the deterrence menu: increased train speeds.

While the United States’ deterrence strategies violate international law by abrogating the right to seek asylum, the European Union’s shift toward targeting the traffickers is little better. As commentator Kenan Malik writes, replacing the border security narrative with a narrative of criminality is not the answer:

The traffickers are certainly odious figures, recklessly placing migrants in peril.
But what pushes migrants into the hands of traffickers are the European Union’s
own policies. The bloc’s approach to immigration has been to treat it as a matter
not of human need, but of criminality. It has developed a three-pronged strategy
of militarizing border controls, criminalizing migration and outsourcing controls.”

What, then, is the answer? Perhaps an immigration policy that includes the words “ensure human dignity” is a start.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.

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Is It Just a Piece of Paper that Makes Someone an American?

Vargas
Jose Antonio Vargas

Jose Antonio Vargas painted a stark picture of what it means to live life as an undocumented immigrant when he spoke to a packed crowd at Tuesday’s “Out of the Shadows Immigration Symposium.”

“One of the biggest ironies about being undocumented in this country is knowing that your life is limited by a piece of paper — all the while knowing that your life is way more than a piece of paper,” said Vargas, who at age 12 was smuggled into the United States from the Philippines.

“Are pieces of papers what make someone an American?” he asked.

Learn about the center opened in the heart of the Minneapolis Latino community to help people who are undocumented.

Read about Vargas’s visit in MinnPost.

Federal Court Enjoins Detention of Central American Mothers and Children

Child from HondurasA federal court has enjoined the Department of Homeland Security from detaining Central American mothers and children for the purpose of deterring future immigration. While the order in the case of RILR v. Johnson, released February 20, 2015, was somewhat overshadowed by an order from a different federal judge (whose ruling on February 16 put the administration’s plans for deferred action on hold), the opinion in RILR signals one of the most significant challenges to federal immigration detention policy, which has been largely unfettered by either legal or budgetary constraints.

The order by Judge James Boasberg, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia, also granted provisional class certification to Central American mothers and children who have been or will be detained in ICE family detention facilities while seeking asylum. Read more about the case at the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, which is lead counsel for the case. You can hear a great 3-minute discussion of the opinion by Melissa Crow, legal director of the American Immigration Council.

Detention-as-deterrence is an affront to human rights. It violates longstanding standards against arbitrary detention by failing to afford the detained mothers and children an individual custody determination and by depriving liberty as a result of the exercise of the right to seek asylum from persecution. It is contrary to the guidance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which allows for detention of asylum seekers only as a last resort. And it flies in the face of our obligations under international refugee law by deterring refugees from seeking asylum at all.

Judge Boasberg’s opinion bears close reading. One by one, the judge dismantles the stack of assumptions upon which the government has built its precarious justification for imprisoning families who have fled to this country seeking asylum.

At the outset the judge makes clear that the government’s decision to imprison arriving asylum seeker families rests not on any threat to public safety or risk of flight posed by the individual mothers and their children. Instead, U.S. immigration authorities’ decision to detain arriving families “reflects a desire to deter” the flight of others.

That the government is detaining families in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection has been of grave concern to The Advocates for Human Rights, as we pointed out in a statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year:

…[T]he Administration’s … decision to continue the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum is of grave concern. Just days before the announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the Administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year. This action not only violates the obligation to protect the family, but raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and due process of law. The Administration’s detention of families, deliberately designed to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection, also violates our obligations under the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

In his opinion, Judge Boasberg looks the Constitution directly in the face, so to speak, and finds that family detention designed to deter future migration gives the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause a black eye.

Quoting Zadvydas v. Davis, the Supreme Court’s 2001 case that put an end to indefinite detention of immigrants, Judge Boasberg notes that the Court has repeatedly recognized that “[f]reedom from imprisonment – from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty that Clause protects.” He reminds us that “in keeping with this fundamental precept, the Zadvydas Court explained that “government detention violates [the Due Process Clause] unless the detention is ordered in a criminal proceeding with adequate procedural protections, or, in certain special and narrow nonpunitive circumstances, where a special justification, such as harm-threatening mental illness, outweighs the individual’s constitutionally protected interest in avoiding physical restraint.” 533 U.S. at 690.

Immigration detention is civil detention, or as the judge puts it, “non-punitive in nature.” As a result, it bears few of the procedural safeguards of the criminal detention system (and many indicia that it violates international standards against arbitrary detention). There is no right to an attorney, no independent review of the decision to detain. At the same time, for those confined within the walls of the hundreds of county jails, ICE detention centers, and private prisons that hold upwards of 34,000 immigrants every day, it is without doubt a deprivation of liberty.

The Advocates submitted a laundry list of human rights violations attendant with U.S. immigration detention policies to the UN’s Human Rights Council, which will review the U.S. human rights record later this year.

Finding the detention of mothers and children to be civil, the judge poses the relevant question: “whether the Government’s justification for detention is sufficiently “special” to outweigh Plaintiffs’ protected liberty interest.” There are times, the judge notes, when the reason for detention has been sufficient justification; for instance preventing flight or protecting the community from individuals found to be especially dangerous.

But in this case, where the government seeks to use its detention authority to deter mass migration, it misses the mark. Relying the Supreme Court’s decision in Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002) the judge reminds us that when it comes to civil detention such general deterrence justifications are impermissible.

In a particularly piercing analysis, Judge Boasberg puts paid to the oft-repeated “they don’t have rights” myth relied upon by the government:

In an attempt to evade this rigorous inquiry, [the Government] note[s] that the present class is comprised of noncitizens, whose entry into this country was unlawful. It follows, they say, that “Plaintiffs have extremely limited, if any, due process rights regarding [their] custody determinations.”… The Government is mistaken.

While it is true that “certain constitutional protections are unavailable to aliens outside of our geographic border,” the Supreme Court has made clear that “once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the Due Process Clause applies to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens, whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.” Zadvydas, 533 U.S. at 693 [further citations omitted]….It is clear, then, that they are entitled to the protection of the Due Process Clause, especially when it comes to their liberty.

The court finally deals with what has too often been a trump card when it comes to limiting the human rights of immigrants: [cue ominous music] national security.

The judge first notes that the government has “essentially conceded that the recent surge in detention during a period of mass migration is not mere happenstance, but instead reflects a desire to deter such migration. Indeed, they state that ICE officials are required to follow the binding precedent contained in Matter of D-J-, 23 I. & N. Dec. 572 (2003)…”

Matter of D-J-, issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft in April 2003, upheld the categorical detention of all Haitians attempting to seek asylum by boat. Relying on the same specious arguments that underpin the Government’s decision to imprison Central American families, the Attorney General found that mass migration was, in and of itself, a national security threat because it “heavily taxed Coast Guard capacity and capabilities.” Matter of D-J-, 23 I. & N. Dec. 572, 578.

At the time the Attorney General issued Matter of D-J-, I despaired of the blind eye turned to individual liberty – not to mention the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. It’s taken over a decade to see a court not shy away from the dread specter of “national security” and instead presses for evidence that the purported national security risk is, in fact, well-founded:

Even assuming that general deterrence could, under certain circumstances, constitute a permissible justification for such detention, the Court finds the Government’s interest here particularly insubstantial. It seeks to deter future mass immigration; but to what end? It claims that such Central American immigration implicates “national security interests,” (citing D-J-) but when pressed to elaborate, the principal thrust of its explanation is economic in nature. It argues, in essence, that such migrations force ICE to “divert resources from other important security concerns” and “relocate” their employees. The Government has not, however, proffered any evidence that this reallocation of resources would leave the agency somehow short-staffed or weakened. Defendants have not conjured up the specter of an influx’s overwhelming the country’s borders or wreaking havoc in southwestern cities. The simple fact that increased immigration takes up government resources cannot necessarily make its deterrence a matter of national security, with all the attendant deference such characterization entails. (Opinion at 35-36).

Rightly, when it comes to depriving persons of their fundamental right to liberty, the judge demands more of the Government: “when its chosen vehicle [to deter mass migration] demands significant deprivation of liberty, it cannot be justified by mere lip service.”

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates’ director of Advocacy 

2014’s Lesson: Take Action. Lives Depend on It.

Painted hand for WordPressDecember has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.

  1. Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
  2. Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
  3. The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
  4. Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
  6. Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
  7. Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
  8. The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
  9. An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
  10. Women and girls have suffered immeasurably where they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
  11. Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
  12. The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
  13. Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
  14. Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
  15. More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.

What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz

Donate now. Because every person matters.

End the Imprisonment of Children & Mothers

Stock Photo woman behind fenceYesterday, The Advocates for Human Rights and more than 120 national and regional organizations wrote to President Obama opposing this week’s opening of the Dilley, Texas family detention center. 

While Congress and the Administration prepare for a joyful holiday season, many children will spend this holiday season in jail instead of with relatives here in the U.S. who are willing to care for them and for their mothers.

These families are not a border security problem. They are among the most vulnerable immigrants, seeking safety and the opportunity to tell their story to a judge. They should not be the centerpiece of a continued “surge” of border enforcement strength. The Advocates and others take issue with the Administration’s message that locking up mothers and children at the border is justified to deter others from attempting a journey that may be necessary to save their lives.

Join us in fighting for the safety of these mothers and children, as well as for ending their incarceration. Contact President Obama and members of U.S. Congress who represent you.


President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We, the undersigned civil rights and civil liberties, human rights, faith, immigration, labor, criminal justice, legal, children’s rights, and domestic violence advocacy organizations, oppose the opening of the new family detention facility in Dilley, Texas. While Congress and the Administration prepare for a joyful holiday season, many children will be spending this holiday season in jail instead of with relatives here in the U.S. who are already willing to care for them and for their mothers. The Dilley facility will be the largest immigration detention facility in the country, with a planned 2,400 beds to incarcerate children and their mothers who are fleeing extreme violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and rush them through the deportation process without due process.

The regional refugee crisis in Central America demands a humanitarian response by the United States, not a show of force. These mothers have faced unimaginable suffering and danger and have come to the U.S. seeking protection, often with close relatives in the U.S. who are willing and able to provide for them. They are not evading law enforcement; they are seeking out Border Patrol officers.

These families are not a border security problem. They are among the most vulnerable immigrants, seeking safety and the opportunity to tell their story to a judge. They should not be the centerpiece of a continued “surge” of border enforcement strength.
The evidence is undeniable that many of these families qualify for protection under U.S. law. Extremely high percentages of these detained women and their children have been granted asylum by immigration judges or been found to have a credible fear of persecution by asylum officers. We take issue with the Administration’s message that locking up mothers and children at the border is justified to deter others from attempting a journey that may be necessary to save their lives. This rhetoric belies our nation’s legal obligation to protect asylum seekers and is inhumane. These children and mothers are not tools for a border messaging campaign.

As the Dilley facility opens, immigration attorneys volunteering from across the country to provide free representation to families isolated in detention centers at Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas are making a tremendous difference in the lives of these families and the outcomes of their cases. We all know the importance of legal counsel to immigrants who are trying to express their fears and navigate our complex immigration system. But the massive outpouring of pro bono efforts that have resulted in so many asylum victories for families in Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas is neither sustainable nor easily replicable, especially for a facility the size of Dilley. We fear that many of the women and children detained in Dilley will go without representation. Without counsel, women are less likely to be found having a credible fear of persecution—the first step to seeking asylum. Credible fear grant rates will fall. And children and mothers who need protection will be returned to danger.

The closure of Artesia as Dilley opens is a clear bait-and-switch. Many families currently detained at Artesia will be transferred to Karnes or to Dilley, not released. As relieved as we are that families will no longer be held at Artesia – a facility in the middle of the desert where repeated violations of human rights and due process occurred – the opening of Dilley signals a ramp up, not a reduction, in family detention.

Detention makes it extremely difficult for traumatized asylum seekers and other vulnerable immigrants to ask for and receive the protections of our laws and the services they need. A detained family may only have a matter of days to seek help before being summarily deported without the opportunity to see a judge. Moreover, your Administration has made it uniquely difficult for these mothers and children to obtain a fair and reasonable release on bond – even when they have absolutely no criminal history and pose no public safety threat, even when they are facing severe medical and psychological difficulties in detention. Furthermore, no satisfactory explanation has been provided as to why proven alternatives to detention (ATDs) are not being considered in those cases where a family cannot otherwise be released, since it would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and accomplish the goal of compliance with removal proceedings. ATDs would also increase access to counsel and therapeutic services for those who experienced trauma.

Detaining mothers and children and rushing them through to deportation is wrong. The public scandal and lawsuit that ended family detention at the T. Don Hutto facility in 2009 demonstrated that detention is a wholly inappropriate place for children and their mothers. But by the middle of next year, your Administration will be detaining nearly 4,000 mothers and children, a forty-fold increase in the use of detention on immigrant families.

With your Executive Actions, you have pledged to protect families. But Dilley will force many families back directly into harm’s way. We urge you to reverse course on family detention and close Dilley.

Sincerely,

National
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
ASISTA Immigration Assistance
Center for Community Change
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for Human Rights & International Justice, Boston College
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Detention Watch Network
Disciples Home Missions
Disciples Home Missions Family and Children’s Ministries
First Focus
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Futures Without Violence
Grassroots Leadership
HIAS
Human Rights First
Jesuit Conference
Justice Strategies
Kids in Need of Defense
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Leadership Team of the Felician Sisters of North America
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
NAKASEC
National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
National Latin@ Network: Casa de Esperanza
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
New Sanctuary Coalition
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Salvadoran American National Network
Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Southern Border Communities Coalition
Stone Grzegorek & Gonzalez LLP
Tahirih Justice Center
United We Dream
We Belong Together
Wheaton Franciscans
Women’s Refugee Commission
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago

International
American Jewish Committee
Disciples Home Missions
Disciples Justice Action Network
Disciples Women
Human Rights Watch
Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity
Physicians for Human Rights
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
The Advocates for Human Rights
The Episcopal Church
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

State/Local
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE)
Asian Law Alliance
Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma
Border Action Network
Causa Oregon
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)
Collaborative Center for Justice
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Conversations With Friends (MN)
Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Franciscans for Justice
Gibbs Houston Pauw
Human Rights Initiative of North Texas
Humane Borders
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Law Group PC
Immigrant Rights Clinic
Immigration Center for Women and Children
Immigration Clinic, University of North Carolina School of Law
Immigration Task Force, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Inter-faith Coalition on Immigration (MN)
Kentucky Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Kentucky Immigration Reform Committee
Kino Border Initiative
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center
Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice
MAIZ
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
Michigan United
Mountain View Dreamers
New Mexico Immigrant Law Center
New Sanctuary Coalition of NY
North Carolina Justice Center
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
OneAmerica
Palabra Santa Barbara
Pangea Legal Services
People Acting in Community Together
Proyecto Azteca
Redwood Justice Fund
Safe Passage Project
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Stop The Checkpoints
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project
University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Clinic
University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic
University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic
VACOLAO – Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations
Walker Gates Vela PLLC
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Official Statement to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Keep Families Together

Official Statement to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Keep Families Together

Stock Photo woman behind fenceBelow is The Advocates for Human Rights’ official statement submitted to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, December 10 (International Human Rights Day), 2014.

Hearing on Keeping Families Together:
The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and
the Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform

“The Advocates for Human Rights is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights in our home community and around the world. The Advocates for Human Rights has provided free legal representation to asylum seekers, investigated and reported on human rights violations, and engaged volunteers in building respect for human rights since 1983.

“The United States is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are equal in rights and dignity, no matter what they look like or where they came from. These values are echoed in our obligation to respect the fundamental rights of all persons without discrimination, regardless of national origin, citizenship, or immigration status.1

“International law recognizes that while the United States has the right to control immigration that right is tempered by its obligations to respect the fundamental human rights of all persons. With few exceptions, the United States may not discriminate on the basis of national origin, race, or other status. In designing and enforcing its immigration laws, fundamental human rights, including the right to family unity,2 must be protected.

“The United States’ immigration system, while generous in many ways, is riddled with systemic failures to protect human rights. Some violations result from the statutory framework itself, while others are a matter of administrative policy or agency practice. The United States, through the federal executive branch, has the authority and the obligation to address human rights violations, including through the issuance or updating of administrative guidance, policies, procedures, or regulations to ensure that they strengthen compliance with international human rights standards. At the same time, the United States Congress must take steps to amend laws which violate human rights standards.

“United States immigration policy fails, at nearly every turn, to respect the right to protection of the family and other fundamental human rights. For example, every year tens of thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children3 are deported from the United States because U.S. law does not allow the consideration of family ties in most deportation cases. Individuals frequently are detained without regard to family ties. Thousands of family members languish in line for visas or with little hope of reunification following deportation.

“Congress must take action on immigration to bring our laws into conformance both with our values and our human rights obligations. This includes restoring judicial discretion to immigration judges; providing a meaningful opportunity for parents facing deportation to make care-giving decisions and participate in child custody proceedings; allowing waivers for family reunification for people following deportation; sensibly revising the family-based immigration system to reduce long backlogs; and creating a legalization program that allows families now living in the United States to stay together.

“While Congress must act to ensure U.S. law meets human rights standards, so to must the Administration. The President’s November announcement that certain undocumented persons who have U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien children will be a low deportation priority is a meaningful, if limited, step toward this compliance.

“While the Administration’s move to protect family unity is welcome, its decision to continue the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum is of grave concern. Just days before the announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the Administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year. This action not only violates the obligation to protect the family, but raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and due process of law. The Administration’s detention of families, deliberately designed to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection, also violates our obligations under the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

“Our immigration laws, policies, and practices must reflect our most deeply held values: that each of us is inherently worthy of dignity, fair treatment, and respect for human rights. Both Congress and the President must act to protect these values.”


1 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 2(1).
2 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 17 and 23, articulate the right to freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with the family and recognition that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
3 See, e.g., Human Impact Partners, Family Unity, Family Health: How Family-Focused Immigration Reform Will Mean Better Health for Children and Families, June 2013, available at
http://www.familyunityfamilyhealth.org/uploads/images/FamilyUnityFamilyHealth.pdf, which estimates that over 152,000 U.S. children are impacted by deportations each year using 2012 deportation numbers.

The official statement was drafted by Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Stock Photo woman behind fenceMaria de la Paz, a U.S. citizen, was deported when the immigration agent who interviewed her assumed she was not born in the United States because she couldn’t speak to him in English. Eventually, the U.S. government recognized her citizenship and issued her a passport, but only after her attorney filed a habeas petition on her behalf.

Then there is Nydia R., a transgender woman from Mexico. Despite having been granted asylum by the United States, she was twice unlawfully deported to danger. “I didn’t know the immigration agents could have helped me,” Nydia said, recalling her treatment at the U.S. border after being raped and attacked by gangs. “They had known all the reasons I was trying to come back to the U.S. and even knowing them, they sent me back.” Deported to Mexico, Nydia was kidnapped and trafficked into the sex trade.

These are just two people’s stories which are revealed in a comprehensive study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of expedited deportations ordered by federal immigration agents instead of judges. The ACLA found numerous incidents of people with rights or strong claims to be in the United States who were deported without the chance to be heard.

The Advocates for Human Rights highlighted concerns about the increasing reliance upon summary deportation procedures in its most recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will examine the U.S human rights record at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review in May 2015:

The Advocates also raised this concern in its 2014 report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. The Advocates identified these summary proceedings and other streamlined deportation efforts that have created conditions for constitutional violations with no effective remedy.

The ACLU’s investigative report titled “American Exile: Rapid Deportations That Bypass the Courtroom” is based on more than 130 cases of individuals who were deported, sometimes in a matter of hours, without the most basic due process protections — including a hearing before a judge and the chance to defend their claims. These deportations are ordered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS agency embroiled in controversy that has been widely criticized for lacking oversight and accountability.

“Under the current system, thousands of people are subject to the whim and mercy of immigration officers who are acting as prosecutor, judge and deporter,” said Sarah Mehta, researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and author of the report. “These officers are not equipped with the legal knowledge and expertise to decide who has rights or valid claims to enter and live in the United States.”

There are more than 40,000 CBP officers authorized to issue these deportation orders with no lawyers or evidence required and no independent review as mandated by human rights law.

“If fairness and justice matter, our government has to allow people with claims and rights to be in the United States a real opportunity to defend those rights,” said Mehta. “Our government has separated families and deported people to their death when we failed to give them the most basic opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves. We must do better — both for those facing deportation and the families left behind.”

According to the report findings, in 2013 the United States conducted 438,421 deportations. In more than 363,279 of those deportations — over 83 percent — there was no hearing or review by a judge before the person was removed. These deportation orders come with the same significant penalties as deportation orders issued by a judge after a full hearing. An immigration officer can order someone deported and banned from the United States anywhere from five years to a lifetime. If an officer makes a mistake and deports some with a right or valid claim to remain in the United States there is virtually no way for that person to rescind the deportation order.

Prior to 1996, the vast majority of people facing deportations from this country had immigration court hearings. Now most do not, opening the way for errors or outright abuse.

In addition to information from interviews with deportees, their families, lawyers and community advocates, “American Exile” includes recommendations to the federal government that are even more important in light of President Obama’s recent executive action announcement, which included both deferrals of deportations and new DHS-wide prosecutorial discretion guidance. For example, there are recommendations to immigration enforcement agencies on screening for individuals who qualify for relief and to ensure that people unlawfully deported have the chance to fix those errors.

Last Friday, a report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concerns over “the expansion of expedited removal procedures, which do not adequately take into account the special circumstances of asylum seekers and other persons in need of international protection.”

The committee’s “concluding observations” also expressed concerns over CBP personnel failing to identify and refer many of the individuals placed in expedited removal for an asylum-screening interview and recommended to the United States to “review the use of expedited removal procedures, and guarantee access to counsel.”

Read the full report, executive summary, and more.
Access Spanish-language versions.

This blog post is based on a news release received by the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Advocacy, contributed to the post.