#StopTheRaids

Raids deportation image

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.

Sincerely,

9to5, National Association of Working Women
The Advocates for Human Rights
African Awareness Association
Agora, St. Paul, MN
Alianza Americas
Alianza de Organizaciones Guatenaltecas ADOGUAH
Alliance For Global Justice
Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina
Alliance San Diego
America’s Voice
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
ARISE
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 DC
CARECEN Los Angeles
Casa de Esperanza
Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
Center for Women Policy Studies
Centro Savila
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
Cocies
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
Farmworker Justice
Fighting for Equal Education
First Focus
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
Grassroots Leadership

HIAS
Hispanic Health Network
Human Rights First
Human Rights Observation/Honduras
Humane Borders

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
IowaCASA
ISAIAH

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Community Action
Just Foreign Policy
Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska
Justice Strategies

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 Momentum
Legal Services for Children
Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
MIRA Coalitions

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
Navigate MN
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
Nicaragua Network
Nisaa African Family Services
Not 1 More Coalition GA

OneAmerica
Orange County Immigrant Youth United

Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Primera Iglesia Bautista
Hispana de Savannah, INC.
Public Counsel

Red Mexicana de Lideres y Organizaciones Migrantes
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Rights Action
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
Savannah Latina
Save the Children
SF Bay Area Guatemalan Committee
Sisters of Mercy, Institute Justice Team
Sojourners
Southeast Asian Coalition
Southern Border Communities Coalition
St. Cyril of Alexandria Parish
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Stop The Checkpoints
SustainUS

Task Force on the Americas
Teatro de la Séptima Generación/Seventh Generation Theatre
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
TODEC LEGAL CENTER
Transformative Healing

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

Here’s what to understand about refugee law & policy

Syrian Refugees Enes Reyhan via Flickr.jpg

I’ve been working as an attorney, primarily in immigration for 12 years. The overwhelming majority of the cases I handled have been asylum cases. I’ve taught a law school clinical practicum for eight years. I’ve spoken and trained attorneys and non-attorneys about asylum law and immigration, nationally and locally. I know the law and I know the process well.

Asylum, for those who aren’t familiar, is based on the same legal definition as “refugee.” The difference is just in where someone is located when they apply for protection from harm.

Here’s what you should understand about refugee law and policy. It will help you better evaluate the statements being made by many others, and it will hopefully help you form a more informed opinion.

First, what does it even mean to be a refugee? Under U.S. law (8 USC 1101(a)(42)), we use this definition (I’m going to paraphrase a little for ease of reading): Someone who is outside of their country of nationality, and who is unable or unwilling to return or get protection from their own government because of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

A refugee must be outside his or her country of origin and outside the United States to seek “refugee” status. They go through an application process, which involves in-person interviews and extensive background checks. This includes full fingerprints, INTERPOL checks, name checks, and cross-referencing a lot of government databases. The United States must approve them before they can set foot in this country. The approval process, before someone can be admitted to the United States, routinely takes between 12-24 months, and sometimes longer.

There is no “right” to refugee status. Individuals can be denied for any reason. Common reasons for denial are not meeting the legal definition of refugee or having inconsistencies in the person’s story.

Refugees must meet eligibility guidelines to enter the United States. These include not being “inadmissible.” There are a lot of reasons you can be deemed inadmissible. For a little “light” reading, check out 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3). It explains all of the “Security and Related Grounds” of inadmissibility. Having spent years appearing in Immigration Court and working with and against the good people at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – trust me, they are not erring on the side of admitting people who might be a danger.

The “material support” provision excludes not just people who’ve associated with “known” terrorist groups. It excludes anyone who we have “reasonable ground to believe” is likely to engage in terrorism or terrorist-type activities. This section of law is incredibly broad and permissive in favor of the government to exclude potential refugees and immigrants. Terrorist groups can include any group of “two or more individuals.” The list of activities that can get you barred is long. Really, just go read the statute if you aren’t sure.

The number of refugee admissions statutorily allowed by congress is pretty small – for FY 2015 that number was capped at 70,000 as it has been for years. It’s only recently that we’ve even come close to filling that capacity. Often we’re below it.

We cannot predict the future. Someone may, after being admitted as a refugee, do something terrible. So might someone who is a U.S. citizen, as we have witnessed many times. Emily Good

By: Emily Good, an attorney  working as the Legal Projects Manager for Minnesota Legal Services State Support. She was formerly a staff attorney and director for The Advocates for Human Rights Refugee & Immigrant Program.

Credit for Syrian refugees’ photo:
Enes Reyhan via Flickr

——-

If you have questions about how the legal immigration system works, post them below. We’ll do our best to answer or ask someone who might know.

Overworked and underfunded immigration court system can’t do the job

Gavel - Law concept

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. 

A report from Syracuse University describes the length of the wait for a hearing.

“[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.

Read more:

By: Guest blogger Mary Turck from her blog, “News Day.”

Serious Concerns About Lack of Access to Counsel for Asylum Seekers

Child from HondurasU.S. Senator Al Franken has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to ensure access to counsel for asylum seekers held in family detention centers. Joined by 18 Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken raises serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is interfering with the ability of asylum-seeking mothers and children to access legal representation. Recently, individual volunteer attorneys, who had travelled to the privately-owned prison in Dilley, Texas where approximately 2000 Central American refugee women and children are detained,were barred from entering to provide  pro bono representation.

Access to counsel can be the difference between life and death for asylum seekers in the United States. Asylum seekers who have lawyers are more than three times as likely to be granted asylum as those who do not.  Having an attorney is “the single most important factor” affecting the outcome of the case. Yet individuals in immigration detention face the biggest challenge in obtaining legal representation.  The American Bar Association estimates that a whopping 84% of immigration detainees nationwide were unrepresented in their removal proceedings.

At the international level, The Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the appalling lack of access to counsel for asylum seekers during the UN reviews for U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and the Convention Against Torture.  Most recently, The Advocates raised the continuing failure of the U.S. to recognize asylum seekers from Central America’s northern triangle in its statement to the UN Human Rights Council during a September 28 interactive dialogue on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights:

As an NGO that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in the United States, we would particularly like to draw attention to an issue that we see on a daily basis: the impact that violent transnational criminal gangs in Central America, fueled by profits from the trade in illegal drugs, have on the lives Central Americans, forcing thousands of women and children to flee and seek safety in the U.S.

Transnational gangs extort, threaten, and forcibly recruit people living in strategic drug trafficking corridors. States in the region are ill-equipped to deal with crimes by these gangs, leaving victims unprotected from serious harm, including torture, disappearance, sexual violence, and murder. And the violence continues to grow, as gangs seek to solidify their control over valuable drug trafficking routes.

For example, gang members threatened to kill one of our clients, who I’ll call “Teresa”, after her family could no longer afford to pay protection money for the family business. Armed gang members abducted her, threw her into a truck, and took her to the leader’s house, where he beat and raped her. Left with no choice but to flee, she sought asylum in the U.S.

Yet the U.S. violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers like Teresa by failing to recognize victims of transnational criminal gangs as refugees, even when such gangs operate as quasi-state actors that routinely torture, rape, and kill those who resist support or recruitment.

Asylum seekers face other violations, including arbitrary detention and prosecution for illegal entry. Mothers and their children are detained in difficult conditions pending preliminary credible fear determinations in two privately-owned prisons where attorneys have been denied access to clients and even summarily barred from the facilities.

The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon:

  • the Human Rights Council to include this issue in the discussion about the impact of the world drug problem on human rights;

  • the United Nations member States to ensure that their national drug policies consider the impact on the human rights of affected individuals and their countries; and

  • the U.S. to end family immigration detention and expedited removal procedures and to treat all asylum seekers in accordance with international standards.

See The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. Bill Lohman deliver the oral statement to the Human Rights Council:

In July, The Advocates launched a bilingual National Asylum Help Line to connect families released from U.S. immigration detention centers like the one in Dilley with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Help Line at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy, and Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt

End the inhumane detention of refugee women and children

Child from HondurasDuring National Week of Action, open your eyes to U.S. horrors

As families across Minnesota prepare for the delights and frights of Halloween, a separate, hidden, and chilling reality exists in Texas, where more than 2,000 immigrant mothers and children are in for-profit detention facilities because they dared to flee to America to escape the horrific gang and domestic violence plaguing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The children in these facilities aren’t deciding whether they want to be Sofia the First or Captain America for Halloween. They are wondering whether they will be in jail for another week or forever.

This does not need to be their reality for much longer. In a class action lawsuit filed earlier this year, California Federal Court Judge Dolly Gee ordered family detention to end. This lawsuit was filed and succeeded because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had failed to provide basic human necessities, such as adequate food, drinking water, medical care, and appropriate facilities to immigrant children in detention.

Judge Gee’s order states that: 1) children can no longer be held in unlicensed facilities and must be given access to adequate food, drinking water, and proper medical care, and importantly, 2) since ICE has been holding immigrant children in sub-standard conditions since June 2014, all immigrant children―with their mothers―must be released from detention and the lock-up facilities must be shut down by October 23, 2015.

It is shocking that the simple proposition that innocent children do not belong in jail has resulted in such a pitched battle in federal court, but it has. Furthermore, there are signs that the government has the appetite for further litigation, as the Department of Homeland Security has stated that it intends to appeal Judge Gee’s decision.

This week is National Week of Action to #EndFamilyDetention, designed to call attention to the human rights abuses the U.S. government is inflicting upon children and their mothers. Events like the one held yesterday at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis—grown from grass roots efforts of local attorneys and advocates―are being held in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, San Antonio, and throughout the country.

Local immigration attorneys have visited these family detention facilities to provide desperately needed legal representation to mothers and their children who are young and scared. Most of the mothers have experienced sexual violence, extortion, and death threats. They have seen their family members murdered before their eyes. A significant number of the children have the same sad history. About 90 percent of the families have been found to have a credible fear of returning to their country, the first step in qualifying for asylum in the United States.

The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis, has launched the National Asylum Help Line to connect Central American families released from detention and seeking asylum with free immigration legal services near them so they can have a fair day in court and a chance to live in safety.

Asylum seekers should be treated like human beings when they come to our country, and until recently, they often were. Before June 2014, these mothers and children most likely would have been identified and then immediately released to family in the United States. They would have received a court date to appear in immigration court to present their case for asylum. Many would have hired an immigration attorney or found a nonprofit organization to represent them in their cases. Orderly, painless, inexpensive.

By contrast, we now have a system that increases the pain all around. Mothers and children are detained indefinitely in a remote location where legal access is barely available and family visitation virtually impossible. Families are jailed in for-profit detention facilities that value profits over providing a basic level of care to children. And all of this costs taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars.

It is beyond inhumane, beyond ridiculous. It is an outrage.

As immigration attorneys, we believe and know that refugees, including the youngest and most vulnerable, have the right to seek asylum, a right that is protected under international law as well as United States laws. But how do we treat these refugees in America, the land of the free? We jail them.

To those who would argue that these women and children are breaking the law by “entering illegally,” it is important to understand that these individuals are presenting themselves to border patrol and claiming a fear of return—as they have the legal right to do―because they are afraid they will be killed if they go home. This most basic of human rights ensures that those who flee persecution have a chance to be heard before being deported to torture or death. By violating our internal and international obligations to process the cases of these asylum seekers in a humane and orderly fashion, we are the ones who are the true lawbreakers.

We hope that as more Americans understand the horrors these refugee mothers and children escaped, as more Americans learn that these vulnerable families are being held in deplorable conditions in for-profit jails run by the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, as more Americans find out how expensive it is to perpetuate this ill-conceived system of misery, they will agree with Judge Gee, and hopefully, family immigration detention will end.

By: Twin Cities’ immigration attorneys Kara Lynum and Michelle Rivero, and The Advocates for Human Rights.

Note: This blog post was published in the Star Tribune‘s editorial section on October 22, 2015.

No Matter Their Country, All Refugees Need Attention and Help

No Matter Their Country, All Refugees Need Attention and Help
Aylan
Aylan & Galip Kurdi

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).

Also consider the United States’ shameful treatment of refugees from Central America. While these refugees occupied headlines a year ago, our attention to their plight has largely shifted elsewhere. Despite less attention and fewer media stories, they still need help. Thousands of children and families continue to arrive at the United States-Mexico border, fleeing horrendous violence in Central America. Many remain locked up in United States detention centers.

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.

If you live in the United States, urge President Obama and U.S. Congress (House of Representatives and U.S. Senate) to increase the annual refugee admissions goal from the 2015 number of 70,000 to 200,000 for 2016.

The Advocates for Human Rights represents Syrian and Central American asylum seekers in legal proceedings and ensures that their right to asylum is protected. If you are an attorney or can interpret, please consider volunteering with The Advocates and support these 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.

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.