Over New Year’s weekend, the Department of Homeland Security began to conduct raids across the country to apprehend and deport Central American mothers and children who came to this country seeking protection from horrific violence.
These tactics are not in line with America’s values and risk sending children and their mothers back to extremely dangerous situations and they are causing panic and fear across immigrant communities. A letter signed by 146 Representatives was delivered on Tuesday to President Obama, hours before his final State of the Union.
Now you can send a message directly to President Obama letting him know that you oppose the Department of Homeland Security’s inhumane and aggressive enforcement tactics that target mothers and children seeking safety and protection.
CALL the White House comment line at 866-473-5915 to tell President Obama to STOP THE RAIDS against Central American refugees!
Tell them that instead of deporting families seeking safety, the administration should see that they are provided adequate representation to seek asylum. The administration should also address the causes of the violence forcing so many individuals to flee. #StopTheRaids
December 31, 2015
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
The undersigned organizations write to express our opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) reported plans to conduct raids in communities nationwide to round up and deport Central American children and their parents. If these plans are implemented, many families will be deprived of the right to seek protection from persecution. The vast majority of children and families that have been ordered removed by immigration judges were ordered removed in absentia. It is likely that most of these families failed to appear in court because they did not receive adequate information from DHS explaining their obligation to go to court or their right to receive a fair hearing on their asylum, Withholding of Removal, and related claims. Moreover, raids would convey the message that these families are a threat to border security, when the reality is that most are asylum seekers in need of humanitarian protection. Given their high rate of eligibility for asylum-related claims, these children and their parents should be treated as an exceptionally vulnerable population and should not be removed without an opportunity to seek relief before a judge.
We urge you to renounce the use of such harsh tactics against this incredibly vulnerable group that has already suffered horrible, uncontrolled gang violence, domestic violence, and other forms of persecution. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data shows that 88 percent of the mothers and children detained in the three family detention centers in Pennsylvania and Texas are proving to the government they are likely to be found eligible for asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief. This data is consistent with an October 2015, UNHCR report finding that 82 percent of women and girls that the U.S. government interviewed in fiscal year 2015 from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico in the expedited removal context proved they have a significant possibility of winning asylum or protection under the Convention against Torture. The women and girls not placed into expedited removal, and who were released at the border,are fleeing similar situations, yet most were not provided with information about accessing asylum or other humanitarian protection in the U.S.
Despite this growing, and now, overwhelming, evidence that many Central American families deserve protection, DHS has pursued an aggressive enforcement strategy against them. The agency has escalated the use of family detention, placing thousands of children and mothers in massive, remote facilities. DHS and the immigration courts subject families to rapid deportation procedures that deprive them of fundamental due process. The agency’s aggressive approach has continued even after two federal courts ruled against these practices (see Flores v. Johnson and R.I.L.R. v. Johnson). Under the guidelines promulgated by Secretary Johnson last November, individuals “who qualify for asylum or other forms of relief” should not be prioritized for removal at all. Almost all of the families at issue put themselves into proceedings by turning themselves in to the authorities at the border after harrowing journeys of thousands of miles.
DHS has failed to provide adequate information to families about their rights and responsibilities in the immigration system. DHS has also failed to offer community-based services to facilitate appearances at court. Finally, the government has not provided appointed counsel to families who would otherwise go without representation. In fact, most of these families have no legal representation—the single most important factor in ensuring their appearance in court. Each of these steps would increase court appearance rates without resorting to the kind of tactics that will demonize a population in need of care and assistance.
The United States has always been a beacon of hope for asylum seekers. Over the past several months, you have championed the cause of protecting Syrian refugees when many questioned whether our nation should still be providing them refuge. We ask you to send that same signal now with respect to the families fleeing Central America and to be the same kind of champion for their protection.
9to5, National Association of Working Women
The Advocates for Human Rights
African Awareness Association
Agora, St. Paul, MN
Alianza de Organizaciones Guatenaltecas ADOGUAH
Alliance For Global Justice
Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina
Alliance San Diego
American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Americans for Immigrant Justice
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence
Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
Austin Jewish Voice for Peace
Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
Berkeley Palma Siruani Sister City Association
Border Action Network
Border Network for Human Rights
Campaign for Community Change and Fair Immigration Reform Movement
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition
CARECEN Los Angeles
Casa de Esperanza
Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
Center for Women Policy Studies
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee and Immigration Ministries
Church of the Brethren
Church World Service
Coalition de Detechos Humanos
Cobb Immigrant Alliance
Colectiva Legal del Pueblo
Colibri Center for Human Rights
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
Conversations With Friends – Minnesota’s program visiting people detained by ICE
Crisis Intervention Services
Dolores Street Community Services
DomesticSexual Assualt Outreach Center
Dominican Development Center, Inc
Durango Unido en Chicago
El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
El Centro Hispano
FaithAction International House
Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement
Fighting for Equal Education
Florida Coastal School of Law Clinical Programs
Focus on Humanity
Friends of Broward Detainees
Friendship Office of the Americas
Frontera de Cristo
Futures Without Violence
Georgia Detention Watch
Hispanic Health Network
Human Rights First
Human Rights Observation/Honduras
Ignatian Solidarity Network
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant Justice Corps
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigration Taskforce, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project
International Rescue Committee
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Community Action
Just Foreign Policy
Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Kino Border Initiative
La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth & Family Center
La Union del Pueblo Entero
La Voz de los de Abajo Chicago
Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF)
Latin American Coalition
Latin American Youth Center/Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers
Latino Commission on AIDS
Latinos in the Deep South
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens
Legal Services for Children
Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Guestworker Alliance
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Law Center
National Justice for Our Neighbors
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Organization for Women
The Needham Area Immigration Justice Task Force
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
NYU Center for Health and Human Rights
Nicaragua Center For Community Action
Nisaa African Family Services
Not 1 More Coalition GA
Orange County Immigrant Youth United
Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Primera Iglesia Bautista
Hispana de Savannah, INC.
Red Mexicana de Lideres y Organizaciones Migrantes
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Rochester Committee on Latin America (ROCLA)
Safe Passage Project
Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)
San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium
San Francisco School of the Americas Watch
San Solano Missions
Sanctuary for Families
Save the Children
SF Bay Area Guatemalan Committee
Sisters of Mercy, Institute Justice Team
Southeast Asian Coalition
Southern Border Communities Coalition
St. Cyril of Alexandria Parish
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Stop The Checkpoints
Task Force on the Americas
Teatro de la Séptima Generación/Seventh Generation Theatre
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
TODEC LEGAL CENTER
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United We Dream
UU College of Social Justice
Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
We Belong Together
Women’s Refugee Commission
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago
Almost half a million immigration cases wait to be heard in immigration courts. The number of pending cases has doubled in six years and keeps growing. Overburdened judges handle about 1,400 cases each year, far more than any other administrative judges. In each case a person, a family, a mother or father or sister or brother, waits for a day in court.
“[T]he average wait time for an individual in the Immigration Court’s pending cases list has also reached an all-time high of 635 calendar days. But this average wait time only measures how long these individuals have already been waiting, not how much longer they will have to wait before their cases are resolved.
“The severity of the rapidly growing crisis was revealed last January, when the court issued thousands of letters notifying individuals that their cases would be delayed for nearly five years more — until November 29, 2019.”
In Minnesota, the report said, the average wait time was 638 days, with 1,092 more days until the probable hearing date.
A Los Angeles Times op/ed identified the problem: too few judges. Everybody who knows anything about the system knows more judges are needed. But Congress refuses to budget for them.
“There is a solution: Money. Estimates range from needing 100 to 225 additional judges to clear the current cases and keep up with the anticipated future caseload. So how does that happen? Congress budgets for it. Except it refuses to.
“This is where Congress’ cynical approach to immigration enters the spotlight. The Republicans in Congress bray about Obama’s immigration policies and decry the high numbers of folks here in the country without permission. But they refuse to look at the solution that they control: properly budgeting the court system that determines who has a legally recognized right to stay, and who is eligible for deportation.”
Judges are not the only people needed to make the immigration courts work. More than 85 percent of immigration cases need interpreters, but the Department of Justice is trying to slash the pay for interpreters, and that will mean more trouble for the already over-burdened courts.
Tony Rosado is a professional interpreter. He says he does not work in immigration courts because even the old rates were unconscionably low. But now, Rosado reports in his blog:
“For several weeks I have been contacted by many of our interpreter friends and colleagues. They have talked to me in person, over the phone, by text, by email, and through social media. The message was the same: interpreting services at the immigration courts of the United States are under siege. They explained how the contractor who will provide interpreting services at all U.S. immigration courthouses had contacted them to offer unprecedented low fees and horrifying working conditions to those who wanted to continue to interpret in these settings.”
BuzzFeed sums up the problem: without enough interpreters, immigration courts can’t function and immigrants can’t get a fair hearing. The extensive BuzzFeed article offers an example of the crucial role played by interpreters:
“Lichter recalled a time when a woman was testifying about the six men who gang raped her. The woman recounted how one of the men standing behind her said, ‘Vamos a hacerla picadillo,’ which translates roughly to ‘Let’s beat her to a pulp.’ The interpreter got it wrong, Lichter said, by rendering a literal translation of the Spanish word picadillo as ‘ground beef.’
“The difference may seem subtle, Lichter said, but it can be crucial in determining whether, from the judge’s perspective, an asylum seeker’s story appears to come truly from the heart or falls flat because it doesn’t make sense.”
Lawyers also play an essential role, representing people in hugely complex immigration proceedings. Every day, immigration judges decide cases that are literally a matter of life and death. Many of the cases now pending in immigration courts involve children who have fled violence in Honduras and El Salvador over the past several years.
According to PBS NewsHour, 19,000 immigrants under 21 have filed requests to stay in the United States this year, and 62 percent are not represented by lawyers. Immigration cases, especially refugee cases, are incredibly complex. The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit saying that these children need to be represented by lawyers as they seek asylum here. PBS reports:
“Seventy-three percent of immigrants under 21 with lawyers are allowed to stay in the U.S. That’s five times higher than the 15 percent of children without lawyers who are allowed to stay.”
When someone is represented by a lawyer, their case gets more careful consideration. That takes longer, increasing the average length of immigration court cases from 16 months for people who are not represented by lawyers to 30 months for those who are.
Judges, lawyers, interpreters — they are all essential to immigration courts. Without adequate funding, the entire system fails.
Will the United States step up and be a moral leader for the refugees fleeing Central America?
Sonia Nazario, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and The Advocates’ 2015 Human Rights Award recipient, asks this question in her news report on how the United States, according to Nazario, “has outsourced a refugee problem to Mexico that is similar to the refugee crisis now roiling Europe” (The New York Times, October 10, 2015). The outsourcing includes “payments” of tens of millions of dollars from the United States to Mexico to stop Central American migrants from reaching the United States/Mexico border to claim asylum.
The crackdown has forced migrants to travel in ways that are harder, take longer, are more isolated and have fewer support mechanisms. New measures have made riding on top of freight trains north, a preferred method for anyone who cannot afford a $10,000 smuggler fee, incredibly difficult. In Tierra Blanca, Veracruz and elsewhere, tall concrete walls topped with concertina wire have been constructed to thwart migrants. In Apizaco, the Lechería train station outside Mexico City and elsewhere, chest-high concrete pillars, or rocks, have been installed on both sides of the tracks so migrants cannot run alongside moving trains and board them.
For those Central American families who make it into the United States, The Advocates for Human Rights provides free legal services to help them seek asylum. For migrants who are not located in the Midwest, The Advocates helps them, too, with its Asylum Helpline that connects families released from U.S. immigration detention centers across the nation with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Helpline at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.
The photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach is an image we should never forget. Instead of romping on the resort beach, Aylan―in his red shirt and dark pants—lies lifeless, his face buried in the sand.
Aylan; his brother, Galip; his mother, Rehan; and his father, Abdullah, had fled the violence in Syria, crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece, and with plans to eventually make their way to Germany or Canada. But high waves flipped the 15-foot rubber raft they were in, pitching them into the sea. The little boys and their mother, and at least nine others, drowned. Only Abdullah survived.
The Kurdi family was on that boat because they were desperate. Eleven of their relatives had been slaughtered at the hands of the Islamic State [ISIS] in the Kurdish-Syrian city of Kobane in June.
There are more refugees in the world trying to escape unimaginable violence than at any other time since the world began keeping records of such desperate journeys. The international community has failed to address the crises. Countries’ policies that exacerbate and intensify the suffering of refugees compound the grief.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are fleeing or are stranded. They are crammed into rubber boats, trucks, and cargo holds, and arriving in Europe en masse. Thousands are trekking across Hungary to Austria, evoking images of people fleeing the Nazis in World War II. Parents cling to their children for dear life. But many drown in the water or suffocate in a truck in the middle of the night, reaching out for a hand to pull them to safety.
While Hungary, Germany, Austria, and other European nations have gathered recent attention, fingers must also point to the United States’ refugee policies. The United States has not risen to its ability to take in Syrian refugees (about 1,500 since the start of the Syria’s civil war in 2011).
In the United States, Central American refugees are met by a ruthless immigration system that jails them, denies their due process rights, mistreats the vulnerable, and fails to abide by international human rights standards. Reports describe children being held in “The Freezer”— rooms deliberately kept cold to make children and mothers suffer. People, including children, are denied basic medical treatment. Children are administered adult doses of vaccinations (and without proper consent), causing sickness. Children as young as five appear in court alone, forced to “represent” themselves in complex, English-speaking legal proceedings. They are met by judges showing little mercy and prosecutors labeling them as national security risks.
After the horrors of WWII, the international community recognized that refugees require protection. The world understood that there are people who have no other option but to flee their homelands, and that international and United States law must protect them. This is not how the United States and other countries are acting and responding today. Instead, they behave and respond in blunt, inhumane, and unforgiving ways; they treat refugees as criminals and terrorists, and even worse.
Domestic politics confuse and conflate the crises. National leaders’ xenophobic and racist rhetoric fuels the fire. As refugees reach countries that have enormous resources, a troubling trend is exposed when people are not treated with dignity, humanity, and compassion. Each year, countries move closer to policies condemned in the past. As refugee flows expand, the United States and European countries are systematically denying refugees of their rights, violating human rights law, and the promises they had made and the treaties they signed.
You and I must hold our respective governments accountable. We must confront the consequences of the world’s collective failure to help migrants escaping violence in search hope and safety. We must pressure our governments to turn toward, not away from, refugees.
The words of Adnan Hassan, cousin of Abdullah and Rehan Kurdi, condemning the world for turning its back on Syrian refugees, can speak for all refugees, no matter the country they flee:
“Do we deserve to have our children picked up from beach shores because their parents panicked and wanted to save their children, save them from terrorism, from kidnappings, from being slaughtered?” Hassan asked in an interview with reporter Jack Moore (International Business Times, September 4.) “How long will they let our children either be killed by terrorists or drown trying to escape?”
By: Deepinder Mayell, director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.
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.
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. 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.
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.