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.

“The Advocates for Human Rights, You Have The Floor…”

The location is Geneva, Switzerland, on the floor of the United Nations Human Rights Council in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room at the Palais des Nations. I have pushed the large button on the microphone unit in front of me. The red disc around my microphone has begun to glow, signifying a live mic. If I dared to look up, I would no doubt see myself on one of the two big screens at the front of the room – staring down, wide-eyed, at the printed page before me.  In front of me are delegates from all of the nearly 200 UN member states, seated in alphabetical order with the current Human Rights Council members seated in the inner half-circle at the front. The black on white-lettered placard at my seat reads “Orateur ONG” (French for “Non-Governmental Organization Speaker”). I have practiced delivering The Advocates for Human Rights’ oral statement; the familiar text on the printed page clutched in my hands steadies me.

I am delivering The Advocates’ oral statement on the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), adopted in 1993. The VDPA, one of the alphabet soup of conventions and declarations relevant in the field of international human rights, contains strong language regarding women’s rights and domestic violence, and The Advocates for Human Rights is using this debate at the Human Rights Council regarding ongoing implementation of the VDPA to point out that there is still much work to be done.

I greet the Council leadership, and begin:

“Domestic violence violates a woman’s right to life, liberty and security, equal protection, and freedom from torture and discrimination. Strong laws are essential for women’s full and equal participation in all aspects of life, and for governments to meet their human rights obligations, they must have effective legislation and practices that promote victim safety and offender accountability.”

This about sums it up for me, and seems a pretty succinct statement of what drew me to the Advocates in the first place: The idea that legal reform needs to lead societal change. In other words, real social change can only happen when the law is on the side of the victim, not the abuser.

We were in Geneva, ten volunteers led by The Advocates’ staff, to continue this important work, and hopefully move the needle, at least a little bit, on issues ranging from domestic violence in places as far flung as Honduras and Mongolia, to the death penalty and the rights of migrants in the United States. We were joined by partners from other international NGOs in this important task. Overall, The Advocates submitted ten stakeholder reports on human rights issues in eight different countries as part of this cycle of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and participated in other proceedings such the Human Rights Committee (a UN treaty-monitoring body) review of Croatia’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (You can read more about that review here.)  

I had two minutes for my statement. Members of the Human Rights Council (forty-seven countries sit on the Council at any given time) are allotted three minutes per topic; non-members and NGOs get two. In practice, I had been wrapping up with about three seconds to spare at what I considered an appropriate speaking pace. The consequences of going over time seemed to vary from being gaveled out of order, to having your mic cut, to receiving a tap on the shoulder from the gentleman in the earpiece standing behind you. I had no desire to find out which of these would be applied to me.

My internal mantra is “cool, calm and collected” as I speak about the issue of victims of domestic abuse being forced to prosecute their abusers on their own in private legal proceedings, and then the problem of “dual arrests,” where abuser and victim are arrested together. As I finish running through a list of actions member countries could take to combat these problems and thank the Council, I finally look up: The clock on the screen shows seven seconds remaining before resetting to zero. Although my voice has remained calm, I notice that I am still maintaining a death grip on the microphone button. I release it and my red microphone light fades to black.

I am honored to have been among the group of dedicated lawyers and human rights activists traveling with The Advocates to Geneva, and even more so to have had this opportunity to address a full session of the Human Rights Council. The Advocates has built itself as an organization that utilizes its volunteers to full capacity, but this experience has been life-changing for me, as well. Thanks to The Advocates and to my wonderful, engaging and talented traveling companions!

By Steven Clay, attorney and volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.  Mr. Clay traveled in March to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

Read the full text of The Advocates for Human Rights’ oral statement, delivered by Mr. Clay, below:

Please check against delivery

Speaker: Mr. Steven CLAY

Item 8 (General Debate)

March 23, 2015

 Mr. President/Madam Vice President:

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stressed “the importance of working towards the elimination of violence against women in public and private life.” Domestic violence violates a woman’s right to life, liberty and security, equal protection, and freedom from torture and discrimination. Strong laws are essential for women’s full and equal participation in all aspects of life, and for governments to meet their human rights obligations, they must have effective legislation and practices that promote victim safety and offender accountability.

This means ensuring that domestic violence is criminalized and prosecuted by the government. Some governments, however, do not treat domestic violence as a public crime. Laws too often force the victim to privately prosecute the domestic violence she has suffered –meaning she must either hire a lawyer, or else prosecute and navigate the criminal justice system by herself. By treating domestic violence as a private crime, states fail to hold offenders accountable.

Another major problem is dual arrests, in which victims are arrested alongside their abusers. Dual arrests happen for several reasons. First, some laws classify psychological violence equal to physical violence. Authorities treat insults and name calling as domestic violence. They arrest both parties even if the victim only quarreled while the offender physically beat her. Second, authorities do not identify the primary aggressor or self-defense injuries; they will arrest a woman who has defended herself from violence. But we know that when a victim is arrested when she calls for help, she will never call the police for help again.

So, how can member states remedy these kinds of problems facing women?

First, The Advocates for Human Rights calls on member states to promote good legal reform. Good laws are the foundation of victim protection and offender accountability.

Second, ensure authorities receive trainings conducted in consultation with NGOs that best know victims’ needs.

Third, promote continual monitoring of how these laws are working in practice so legislation can be amended and responses customized to address these issues.

Finally, ensure adequate funding and support for victims, including shelters, hotlines, legal aid, and other services.

Taking measures such as these are critical steps to help fulfill implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. Thank you.

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.

Out of the Mouths of The Advocates

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When Human Rights expert Margo Waterval questioned the delegation from Croatia, I recognized her words; they came directly from The Advocates for Human Rights’ “one-pager.” Astonished, I turned around to look at Rosalyn Park, director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program; she knew those words, too. The look on her face probably mirrored mine. Simply put, we were thrilled.

Rosalyn and I, along with The Advocates’ Croatian partner, Valentina Andrasek, and other volunteers of The Advocates, were attending the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s review of Croatia in Geneva, Switzerland. The responsibility of the Committee, which is comprised of independent experts on human rights, is to monitor the compliance of State parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee examines reports and listens to statements by the State, as well as non-governmental organizations. At the end, the Committee addresses its concerns and makes recommendations to the State party in the form of “Concluding Observations.”

Starting in 2010, The Advocates has studied Croatia’s domestic violence laws in action. Together with its partner on the ground, Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb (AZKZ in Croatian), The Advocates’ lawyers have interviewed police officers, prosecutors, judges, counselors, and shelter staff about how the laws have worked in practice. In 2012, The Advocates published the comprehensive report, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation. Based on this report and updates from AZKZ, The Advocates and AZKZ submitted a parallel report on domestic violence to the Committee in advance of Croatia’s March 2015 review. The “one-pager” Professor Waterval quoted in her question to the delegation summarized this parallel report.

In its reviews of State parties, the Committee provides for input by non-governmental organizations, such as The Advocates and AZKZ. Valentina Andrasek, the director of AZKZ, made a presentation to the Committee summarizing our parallel report. We also participated in a forum for NGOs and Committee members. It was at that forum where we met Professor Waterval and gave her a copy of our “one-pager.”

Professor Waterval’s question to the Croatian delegation began with our words. “Research shows that men are the perpetrators of violence 95 percent of the time. Yet in Croatia, police arrest and charge women in 43.2 percent of the cases,” she said. She continued, using our words, and asked the Croatian delegation to respond and explain these “dual arrests.”

Over its two-day review of Croatia, the Committee considered many issues in addition to domestic violence. The Croatian delegation responded, but said little about domestic violence. The chairman of the Committee took notice. He said, in summary, “We all know domestic violence is about power and control, and I would like to hear Croatia’s answers to the questions that were asked about why police arrest the victims along with their abusers.”

Again, Rosalyn and I exchanged looks. Here before our eyes was evidence again that The Advocates and AZKZ, working together, helped focus the Committee on protecting victims of domestic violence in Croatia. The Committee recently issued its Concluding Observations based on its review of Croatia, and much of it reflects The Advocates’ advocacy and recommendations on domestic violence:

“While commending the State party for criminalizing domestic violence in its Criminal Code, the Committee notes with concern the inconsistent application of penalties due to the fact that domestic violence can also be defined as a misdemeanour. The Committee is concerned at reports of lack of investigation and prosecutions as well as lenient sentences imposed on perpetrators. In particular, the Committee is concerned at recurrent reports of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence. The Committee is also concerned about the low number of women benefiting from the free legal aid system, the low number of protective measures issued and the lack of follow-up to protection orders, rendering them largely ineffective. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned about the lack of a sufficient number of shelters for victims of domestic violence. The Committee regrets the absence of statistical data on acts of domestic violence (arts. 3 and 7).

“The State party should:

“(a) Adopt a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing violence against women in all its forms and manifestations;

“(b) Intensify its awareness-raising measures among the police, judiciary, prosecutors, community representatives, women and men on the magnitude of domestic violence and its detrimental impact on the lives of victims;

“(c) Ensure that cases of domestic violence are thoroughly investigated by the police, perpetrators are prosecuted, and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and victims are adequately compensated;

“(d) Eliminate the practice of dual arrests and convictions of both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence;

“(e) Ensure the issuance of effective protective orders to ensure the safety of victims and that measures are in place to follow-up on protection orders;

“(f) Ensure the availability of a sufficient number of shelters with adequate resources; and

“(g) Collect data on incidences of domestic violence against women and, based on such data, continue to develop sustainable strategies to combat this human rights violation.”

(The full Concluding Observations document may be found here.)

By Julie Shelton, attorney and long-term volunteer who The Advocates for Human Rights honored with its Volunteer Award in 2014. Ms. Shelton traveled in March to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

You can learn more about how to conduct advocacy at the United Nations in The Advocates’ new manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A step-by-step guide to human rights fact-finding, documentation, and advocacy. Follow the link here for Chapter 9: Advocacy at the United Nations.

Volunteer Relishes First-hand Experience Working at U.N.

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A volunteer for human rights, or more accurately for The Advocates for Human Rights with whom I first became acquainted in the late 90’s when I joined The Advocates to conduct domestic violence training for NGOs from Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Armenia. Soon after, I teamed with The Advocates’ staff and an Armenian NGO to undertake careful fact-finding with the goal of assessing the status of the rights of Armenian women to be free from intimate violence. The recommendations from the report which resulted were used to increase services for survivors and to hold more offenders accountable in Yerevan and other communities in Armenia.

Today, more than 15 years later, I am sitting with a number of The Advocates’ staff and volunteers in the Serpentine Lounge in Building E, otherwise known as the home of the Human Rights Council in the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. The Serpentine Lounge is two floors below the formal major chamber where delegates from around the world sit in an orderly fashion, each taking their turn to deliver two-minute statements or sound bites to comment and vote on proposed resolutions on issues like food, sustainability, or listen to reports from special experts or rapporteurs on the status of a state’s record on various aspects of human rights as defined by a myriad of declarations and conventions.

In contrast, the Serpentine Lounge is a hub of activity against a mellow Geneva landscape. Delegates are in earnest conversations with each other and NGOs to learn from each other and no doubt try to persuade one other. Of the many opportunities I have had here over the week “working,” the Serpentine Lounge has been one of the most energizing.

Every four and one-half years, 16 countries are scheduled to appear for their Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. Given The Advocates’ special consultative status with the United Nations, we have the ability to meet with delegates who will be submitting comments on the status of the countries up for review this May. Building on the tremendous work already completed by The Advocates, my colleagues and I are meeting with delegates from literally every part of the world. I have met with delegates from countries as diverse as Finland and Paraguay who are interested in how effectively countries to be reviewed, such as Mongolia and Croatia, are with eradicating gender-based violence. We share our findings with the delegates, and in the instance of Croatia, our Croatian colleague, Valentina Andrasek, is here to offer her NGO’s first-hand experience helping battered women. The delegates are both surprised and discouraged to learn the way in which the Croatian criminal law is being implemented. In Croatia, more than 40 percent of domestic violence cases in which arrests are made result in dual arrests, with both the victim and the offender being arrested.

Not only do we share our recommendations and hand the delegates fact-filled one-pagers, we get the chance to learn about the values and politics of countries we may never visit. My mind has been going the proverbial mile-a-minute; I have learned so much about the complexities of the UN world—an alphabet soup of shorthand—where work really gets done. I have found my co-travelers as fascinating as the delegates with whom we have met. And as one of the few non-Minnesotans in The Advocates’ delegation, I have throughly enjoyed the Midwestern grace and calm that has infused our time together.

Thank you, The Advocates for Human Rights, NGO extraordinaire.

By: Joan Kuriansky, an attorney who has been involved in women’s rights throughout her career, has experience running local and national organizations that address a range of issues, including women’s economic empowerment and violence against women. Ms. Kuriansky recently traveled to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates for Human Rights and other volunteers.

In Memoriam: Sharon Rice Vaughn

Sharon Rice Vaughan Photo: Lisa Miller, U of M
Sharon Rice Vaughan
Photo: Lisa Miller, U of M

Dear Friends,

What a great privilege to have known Sharon Rice Vaughan. She was an amazing teacher, and one of the greatest examples of a servant leader I have ever met. Sharon was the first expert to consult with us at The Advocates for Human Rights when, more than 20 years ago, we started our Women’s Program. I remember listening to her story and thinking how amazing it would be for her to share that story with women around the world.

Sharon was part of our delegation to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995. I witnessed how easily she connected with women from every corner of the globe and how her story touched them in profound ways. The following year she traveled with us to Tirana, Albania, and shared her story again with women from nine countries in the Balkans. Sharon mesmerized the entire room with her story of how the seeds of the first shelter were planted by welcoming battered women into her own home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and how she and other amazing women built the first shelter. She inspired these women who were in the earliest stages of organizing after the fall of communism; through her example, she showed them that with passion, commitment, and creativity, they too could start a movement.

I am grateful for the ways Sharon changed my life, and I am inspired by the ways she changed the world.

Sincerely,

Robin Phillips, Executive Director
The Advocates for Human Rights

Sharon Rice Vaughan was a national pioneer in providing safe havens to abused women. Her life ended this week, as a result of a car accident in Cuba. Learn more about Ms. Rice Vaughn.

Driver’s Licenses for All

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The Minnesota legislature is set to consider a proposal that would decouple immigration status from driver’s license eligibility. This important proposal restores Minnesota law to its pre-2003 state and returns the driver’s license to its original purpose of ensuring that drivers on Minnesota roads have demonstrated that they know how to drive.

The bills, HF 97 (Hamilton) and HF 98 (Clark) in the House and SF 224 (Champion), each would allow Minnesota to accept a valid, unexpired passport and certified birth certificate as an acceptable form of proof of identity. The bills would also repeal the Minnesota rules that require driver’s license applicants to submit proof of current authorized legal presence in the United States.

In 2003 Minnesota amended its regulations to require that applicants for driver’s licenses must present proof of residency and “demonstrate proof of either lawful short-term admission to the United States, permanent United States resident status, indefinite authorized presence status, or United States citizenship.” Minn. Rules. 7410.0410, subpart 1.

The Advocates for Human Rights opposed the 2003 rules change, noting that they were likely to “result in discriminatory and potentially unconstitutional practices, will decrease public safety, and will fail to advance the purpose of the rule.” We cited concerns about the erosion of immigrant community trust in police and decreased willingness to cooperate with police in the investigation of crime. We also noted that the rules may lead to unconstitutional actions, including unconstitutional stops, arrests, and detention incident to traffic stops made solely on the basis of perceived immigration status.

Those concerns were born out in the findings of The Advocates’ 2014 report Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today, where immigrant crime victims reported that fear of deportation stands in the way of calling the police. Advocates reported incidents of law enforcement routinely running license plates of Latino drivers, jailing people for failure to have a driver’s license, and calling federal immigration officials during the course of traffic stops.

In 2003, we also raised the concern that “due to extensive delays in application processing, many immigrants and lawful nonimmigrants will be unable to present documentation of their status” despite being lawfully present.

The Advocates represents asylum seekers – people who have fled their countries out of fear of persecution, torture, and death. Asylum seekers may struggle through years of bureaucratic delays before their applications are approved. They are lawfully present in this country under federal law and international treaty, but the only proof of their authorized stay acceptable under Minnesota Rule 7410.0410 is the work permit issued to asylum seekers in one-year increments. Asylum seekers are issued Minnesota driver’s licenses marked with the words STATUS CHECK and the expiration date of their work permit. Unfortunately, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency which issues employment authorization documents, is plagued by bureaucratic backlogs which often result in delays of weeks or even months in work permit renewals. In these situations, even though the asylum seeker remains lawfully present in the United States, their driver’s license is cancelled and, when the new work permit finally arrives, the asylum seeker must pay a renewal fee for a new license to be issued. They cannot drive while they wait for their immigration paperwork.

Asylum seekers in our community have endured persecution in their home countries and trauma in flight to safety. Minnesota law should ensure that, when they arrive in our state seeking to rebuild their lives in safety, they are met with welcome and given access to the tools they need to move forward. Returning Minnesota’s driver’s license law to its pre-2003 status is the right thing to do.

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