The Advocates for Human Rights condemns plans by the administration to summarily return asylum seekers to Mexico without a hearing while simultaneously asking Congress for more than $800 million for federal immigration enforcement.
On Tuesday The New York Timesreported the White House plans, stating that “[u]nder the policy, asylum seekers would not be held for any length of time in an American facility nor would they be given due process.” Alongside the measure, the White House has requested more than $800 million in increased spending for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Roll Call reports the increased funding is earmarked for migrant quarantine facilities and for charter deportation flights to allow continued deportations despite commercial airline shutdowns.
“This move, made at the very moment when federal immigration officials are refusing to release people from ICE detention centers who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, makes clear that the administration has no interest in ensuring the health of people in its custody or in meeting its international human rights obligations,” says Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. “While we are encouraged by Wednesday’s announcement by ICE that it will temporarily halt interior enforcement activities, people cannot be allowed to languish inside detention centers.
“We call on Congress to reject the White House’s request for more money for immigration enforcement. We also call on the administration to comply with international obligations to ensure that people are not returned to torture or persecution without a hearing. By reuniting people with their families, rather than detaining or deporting them, we can keep our communities safe and meet our legal obligations.”
By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director at The Advocates For Human Rights
The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.
The current administration in Washington is waging an all-out war on asylum, which it falsely characterizes as a charade or loophole rather than an essential human right. While the war is focused on the influx of refugees at the southern border who flee violence and chaos in Central America, it threatens to demolish protections for refugees all over the world who come to the United States seeking safety. The Advocates for Human Rights deals every day with the desperate ones whose fates are at issue. Since policy affects real people, it is instructive to examine the government’s anti-asylum initiatives in juxtaposition with just one of the many stories in our case files, which is used with our client’s consent.
Maria was 11 years old and living with her family in Guatemala when a 22-year-old man began preying upon her, inducing her to engage in a sexual relationship with him. Her father forbade her from seeing the man, but he coerced Maria into returning to him by threatening to harm her family if she didn’t. The man kept her locked in a room in his mother’s house.
Having failed in the courts with previous anti-immigration tactics, the U.S. government just launched two new attacks on asylum by executive fiat, with other assaults being planned..
At the age of 14, Maria was forced to marry her abductor. She went to the police in Guatemala, but they told her this was a domestic matter that she should “work out” with her husband. When Maria’s husband found out she had gone to the police, he beat her. As time went on, the beatings continued.
First, the administration announced that there would be a great expansion of the use of the expedited removal process, by which immigration courts and asylum officers are bypassed completely and lower-level immigration officials are allowed to apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants with no due process so long as they have not been in the country for two years. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has sharply criticized the expedited removal process, finding that border officials often are biased against asylum claims and fail to take steps necessary to ensure that asylum seekers are protected from arbitrary expedited removal. Nevertheless, the administration has embraced it.
Maria became pregnant and told her husband. He continued to beat her, so badly that she lost the baby. She escaped and hid with a family member, but her husband searched for her relentlessly. With no other escape from her situation, and no possibility of help from her country’s government, Maria embarked on the arduous and dangerous journey through Mexico and across the U.S. border.
A second attack on asylum was the announcement of a new rule excluding people from asylum if they failed to first ask for asylum in a country through which they travelled. While this rule would affect all refugees, it is directed mainly at the Central American refugees who cross through Mexico and Guatemala before reaching the United States.
Non-profit advocacy groups promptly sued, challenging the administration’s third- country rule. Among other grounds, they argued that the rule violates an express Congressional prohibition against relying on the asylum procedures of any country unless we have in place with that country a “safe country” agreement, ensuring their asylum procedures provide an acceptable level of safety for claimants. No such agreement exists with Mexico. (On July 26, the U.S. entered into a purported safe country agreement with Guatemala, even though Guatemala does not come close to meeting the standards for a safe country and was in fact the country from which Maria fled due to the lack of any governmental remedy for the domestic violence that threatened her life.)
On July 24, federal district courts on opposite coasts issued opinions concerning the new rule. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly in the District of Columbia refused to enjoin the rule, essentially on a finding that the advocacy groups had failed to make a factual showing of standing to make their claims. The very same day, however, Judge Jon Tigar of the Northern District of California issued a lengthy opinion enjoining the rule, finding ample evidence that no reasonable asylum process was available in either Mexico or Guatemala. Appeals in both cases seem inevitable.
Maria found her way to The Advocates for Human Rights. Represented by Program Director Sarah Brenes, Maria won asylum. She is now living safely in the United States, where she is finishing high school and hopes to become a police officer.
Either of the latest attacks on asylum might have been used to deport Maria and send her back to her violent husband and a government unwilling to protect her. Can anyone believe that the United States would somehow have benefitted from that?
A humane asylum system is critical if we are to fulfill our legal and moral obligations to offer succor to the world’s most desperate. As many of us have been asking for some time now, what kind of country are we?
-James O’Neal, Board Chair of the Advocates for Human Rights
A new regulation by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice seeks to bar asylum to people who enter or attempt to enter the United States at the southern border if they do not first apply for asylum in at least one other country through which they traveled. The Interim Final Rule published July 16 took immediate effect and allows only 30 days for public comment.
The new asylum bar is the latest in a series of actions designed to limit access to protection for refugees. The federal government has engineered a crisis at the southern border by starving the system of adjudicatory resources while exponentially expanding the capacity to detain people arriving in search of protection from persecution or torture. The government has used this engineered crisis to change unilaterally and without debate asylum eligibility rules.
The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about this restriction on the fundamental human right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. We are reviewing the regulation and monitoring its impact on our clients. Volunteer attorneys should watch for practice guidance and should reach out to The Advocates’ staff or consulting attorneys with questions.
What does the new rule do?
The new rule establishes a new mandatory bar to asylum for people who enter or attempt to enter the United States across the southern border if they did not apply for protection from persecution or torture in at least one third country through which they transited on their way to the United States.
Who does the rule apply to?
The new rule applies to anyone who enters or attempts to enter the United States at the southern border on or after Tuesday, July 16, 2019. This rule does not affect people who entered before July 16, 2019, or who enter or attempt to enter at other ports of entry.
Are there exceptions to the new rule?
There is a very limited exception for people who demonstrate that they are a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons.
How can I help?
Comments to this rule, identified by EOIR Docket No. 19-0504, may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
Call your congressional representatives at 202-224-3121 to ask them to protect the right to seek and enjoy asylum.
The Advocates for Human Rights provides free legal help to more than 1000 victims of human rights abuses, including asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and people in detention. We need your help now more than ever. Please click here to give.
…it seems that the concept of freedom no longer has a consensus understanding among the American people. What’s more, we have lost our ability to engage in debate, a cornerstone of a healthy democracy.
Until recently, I had not visited Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty. Working with immigrants and asylum seekers has thus far defined my professional career, but my visit to Lady Liberty served as a reminder about our nation’s concept of freedom. The audio guide (love this modern invention) shared many new facts about Lady Liberty, reinforced ones commonly known and challenged visitors to define the statue’s significance to them.
At its inception in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was built as a sort of nod from the French to the United States which was, by then, a century-old democracy with a bright future, having recently withstood a civil war.
She was built filled with symbols: her torch as a sign of enlightenment; her sun ray crown sharing her light with the rest of the world; her tablet of laws symbolizing the importance of the rule of law; and at her feet, broken chains as a sign of freedom from slavery and political oppression.
A powerful part of the statue’s story is that the significance of her symbols has changed alongside U.S. history, a true sign of her aspirational nature.
In her early years, Lady Liberty was a symbol of hope, freedom and new beginnings, welcoming over 12 million new immigrants, accepting 98% of those who passed through Ellis Island from 1892-1954. During WWI and WWII, she welcomed troops back to the homeland, standing as a reminder of the freedoms they were fighting for while stationed in other parts of the world. She now stands with the Manhattan skyline at her side, including the new World Trade Center, as a reminder of strength and resilience to rebuild in the name of freedom.
At the end of the tour, the audio guide challenged me (and everyone else who listened to it) to define what liberty means.
I was just about 10 when the Cold War ended, just over 20 when the Twin Towers fell and right around 30 when the Great Recession hit. Each of these events has shaped my understanding of political, ideological and economic freedoms. There was much debate among the American people about how much “liberty” could be sacrificed in order to protect “freedom” but little question about what “freedom” meant at the time. At forty, it seems that the concept of freedom no longer has a consensus understanding among the American people. What’s more, we have lost our ability to engage in debate, a cornerstone of a healthy democracy.
Immigration is one of the many issues where debate has become nearly impossible. The last comprehensive reform to our immigration laws was over half a century ago. The last meaningful attempt at reform was a decade ago. A week ago, without discussion or debate, our government temporarily closed the San Diego port of entry to asylum seekers and is attempting to close off the rest of the border permanently.
The 1980 Refugee Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to “revise the procedures for the [S. 643] admission of refugees, to amend the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 to establish a more uniform basis for the provision of assistance to refugees, and for other purposes.” (Source: Public Law 96-212) Refugee law and humanitarian law recognize that refugees seeking safety cannot always follow an orderly immigration process when death is at their door. Thus, our laws allow for anyone in the U.S. to apply for asylum, regardless of how or where they entered.
Monday, December 10 is Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. It confirms that the State has a core duty to promote standards of life that enable us to enjoy equality and freedom, achieve justice, and live in peace.
I cannot think of a simpler concept of freedom than to be able to go to school, run your business, raise your family or live in your home without fearing that you might be killed. As we turn our backs on these families and children seeking this most basic freedom that the Statue of Liberty symbolized, I cannot help but fear that in the next decade “freedom” in America will may lose its meaning altogether.
By Sarah Brenes, Director Refugee & Immigrant Program at The Advocates for Human Rights
Number 2: Take part in the #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action . Actions are being organized around the country. (If you’re in the Twin Cities, lawyers are organizing a meet-up at the Hennepin County Government Center fountain on Friday at noon. Bring your friends. Bring a sign. Bring a lunch. Consider wearing white. There won’t be any program. We just want to gather a big group to show that the community believes America must treat every person with respect.)
Number 3: Don’t call for more surveillance and tracking of immigrant children. The “missing” children are not missing. These children’s adult sponsors – family members or others with whom they had a preexisting relationship – may not have answered the phone when the federal government called. As The New York Times, in one of the many attempts to make sense of the story, reported over the weekend:
“Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees refugee resettlement, began making calls last year to determine what had happened to 7,635 children the government had helped place between last October and the end of the year.
From these calls, officials learned that 6,075 children remained with their sponsors. Twenty-eight had run away, five had been removed from the United States and 52 had relocated to live with a nonsponsor. The rest were unaccounted for, giving rise to the 1,475 number. It is possible that some of the adult sponsors simply chose not to respond to the agency.”
Number 5: Demand that children seeking safety in our country are treated humanely. A new ACLU report based on thousands of pages of documents show “breathtaking” misconduct, abuse, and neglect of children coupled with a reprehensible failure of accountability. These documents cover 2009-2014, showing that the Obama administration bears the blame for creating the system being deployed against families today. You can sign the ACLU petition calling on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to stop subjecting children in its custody to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, hold responsible agents accountable, and create safeguards against future abuses.
Since 2014, a growing number of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in Guatemala have requested legal assistance from The Advocates in applying for asylum in the United States. Using information from interviews with these clients, The Advocates documented violence against women in Guatemala and submitted a stakeholder report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s third-cycle Universal Periodic Review, which took place on November 8, 2017.
Violence against women remains a serious problem in Guatemala, especially as the country continues to struggle to implement protective measures and programs. In the first ten months of 2015, the public ministry reported receiving 11,449 reports of sexual or physical aggression against women. In the first seven months of 2015, there were 29,128 complaints of domestic violence against women and 501 violent deaths of women.
Due to lack of protection and high rates of impunity, many women choose to leave the country rather than face potential reprisals and stigma. Domestic violence is also a significant push factor for unaccompanied child migrants.
The Advocates is able to help these women and children in two important ways: providing legal assistance in their asylum cases and using their experiences to advocate at the United Nations for law and policy changes in their home country of Guatemala.
There are several steps involved in bringing these individual stories to an international stage.
First, The Advocates drafted a report documenting violence against women in Guatemala, based on research on country conditions and client interviews. The Advocates submitted this stakeholder report to the Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s Universal Periodic Review. After the report was complete, I drafted a two-page summary that outlined the key information and suggested recommendations. I then reviewed countries that made recommendations to Guatemala during its second UPR in 2012, and selected 27 countries to lobby based on their past support for eliminating gender-based violence. I emailed these countries, thanking them for their interest in women’s issues and updating them on the status of past recommendations they made to Guatemala. I sent them the full report on Guatemala as well as the summary document.
The purpose of lobbying other countries is twofold— to alert the country to the dire situation in Guatemala and to provide suggested recommendations based on our report. The country under review must acknowledge the recommendations, which can serve as a rebuke for missteps as well as a blueprint for areas to improve.
For example, Guatemala received and accepted recommendations during its second-cycle UPR in 2012 to strengthen the 2008 Law Against Femicide. In order to implement these recommendations, the government established several agencies and institutions to give effect to the law, and created lower level courts. Yet weak implementation of these tools meant there was little reduction in levels of violence against women. In addition, there is no law against sexual harassment, despite its ubiquity. The partial implementation of these 2012 recommendations speaks to the importance of creating targeted recommendations, the success of which can be measured on a defined timeline.
After the UN published the recommendations made during the November 8th UPR, I reviewed them to determine the success of our lobbying efforts. Of the 27 countries we contacted, seven of them made recommendations, five of which Guatemala accepted. Interestingly, the number of VAW-specific recommendations made to Guatemala remained fairly constant from 2012 (30 recommendations) to 2017 (31), but the makeup of the countries making the recommendations changed. In 2017, 77% of the VAW recommendations were made by countries that did not make a VAW recommendation in 2012. This shift suggests that a wider group of countries is taking note of the situation in Guatemala and willing to use their platform at the UN to advocate for women. It also suggests we should expand our lobbying efforts to target additional countries.
I was pleased to see the following recommendation from Spain, a country we targeted with our lobbying:
“Allocate sufficient resources to specialized courts and tribunals with jurisdiction over femicide and other forms of violence against women as well as move towards the full implementation of the Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women.”
This recommendation indicates that Spain acknowledges steps Guatemala has taken (specialized tribunals, partial implementation of the Law against Femicide) and points out a key gap in the implementation of these efforts: lack of government resources.
It’s incredibly powerful to see this recommendation and other calls to action that grew out of The Advocates’ client testimonies.
Guatemala accepted 28 of the 31 VAW-specific recommendations and will have five years before its next review to work on implementing them. I hope, the country will continue to build on past work and use the recommendations made during this review to effect meaningful change.
By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.
This post is the second in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy. The series highlights The Advocates work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include: