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.

Driver’s Licenses for All

MN with Road
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.

No change, no hope, says Texas judge — but he doesn’t have the final word on immigration

Peace for ImmigrantsOn February 17, Texas federal district court judge Andrew Hanen issued a preliminary injunction to stop immigration changes. That’s an order saying the government may not proceed with expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA). The order is one of the very early steps in the lawsuit against the federal government by 26 states. These states want to overturn President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

DACA: The order does not affect people who already have DACA status. It does affect immigrants older than 30 who could qualify for DACA under the expanded program. They were supposed to be able to apply for protection from deportation and work permits beginning today, February 18. Vox says that is about 290,000 people. Immigrants who are under 30 and qualify for DACA because they came to the United States as children and meet the various other DACA criteria can still apply. The court ruling affects expanded DACA, but not original DACA.

DAPA? DACA? What’s this? 

Original DACA is the program, established by Obama’s executive action in 2012, which gives temporary protection from deportation and work permits to many young people who were brought to this country as children before 2010 and who were 15-31 years old on June 15, 2012. More info hereExpanded DACA, announced by the Obama in November 2014, lifts the age limits for application, though the person still needs to meet the “brought here as a child” definition.

DAPA would give protection from deportation and work permits to parents of U.S. citizens who are present in the U.S. and have lived here continuously since January 1, 2010. More info here.

DAPA: The DAPA program would grant temporary status to undocumented parents of U.S. citizen and green card holders. The judge’s order puts DAPA on hold for now. That means no protection from deportation and work permits for an estimated 3.7 million people — for now.

For more immigration news, check out my Immigration News newsletter, and subscribe to receive it monthly.

What next? The Obama administration will appeal the preliminary injunction and is fighting the underlying lawsuit.

Vox is becoming my favorite news site. Its explanations are accurate and written in easy-to-understand language. So I recommend Dara Lind’s article, A federal judge just put the brakes on Obama’s immigration actions, and also Vox’s card stack explaining Obama’s immigration orders.

Beyond the legal battles, Lind also notes the threat to success posed by all of the court fights and propaganda:

“When the administration created the first deferred-action program in 2012, for young unauthorized immigrants, they discovered the success of the program relied on people signing up — and on the ground, organizers learned that finding eligible immigrants and getting them to apply was the hardest part. Now, community groups are trying to educate a much larger, more diffuse immigrant population about the new deferred-action programs, and persuade them that it’s safe to apply. But news and misinformation about the lawsuit is spreading confusion and fear among the very people these groups are trying to reach.

“Organizers are worried about a ‘chilling effect’: by the time applications do open for deferred action, immigrants will have been intimidated out of applying, because they won’t believe the program is safe or permanent.”

The American Immigration Council also has good coverage of the ongoing battle, reminding readers that the preliminary injunction leaves part of Obama’s November 2014 orders in place. That part is the order establishing immigration enforcement priorities.

“This memo establishes a department-wide set of priorities that focus on the removal of individuals who pose threats to “national security, public safety, and border security.” It went into effect on January 5, 2015. Virtually every person who is eligible for expanded DACA and DAPA will not qualify as an enforcement priority and will be a strong candidate for the favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion, should they come into contact with immigration enforcement officers.”

For an in-depth look at what DACA and DAPA mean, take a look at Geoffrey Heeren’s article, “The Status of Nonstatus,” in the American University Law Review. From the abstract:

“The Obama Administration’s ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals’ (DACA) and ‘Deferred Action for Parental Accountability’ (DAPA) programs are the most recent and largest categories of nonstatus, but there are many others: parole, administrative closure, supervision, Deferred Enforced Departure, and Stays of Removal. What these categories have in common is that they are discretionary, unreviewable, weakly described by positive law, and officially temporary, although persons often live for years or even lifetimes in the purgatory of nonstatus. They occupy a paradoxical middle ground between legality and illegality, loosely tethered to this country by humanitarian concern or prosecutorial discretion. Those with nonstatus have fewer rights and remedies than those with immigration status. At the same time, they must register, disclose biographic data, be fingerprinted, and regularly update their address. Yet nonstatus is not just a government surveillance program; it is the only way for many persons to claim some measure of dignity and legitimacy from a society that places a strong stigma on unauthorized migrants.”

Millions of immigrants languish in this “nonstatus” purgatory for years on end. It’s long past time for Congress to act responsibly to create a path to legal permanent residence and eventual citizenship.

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

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

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

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

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

Donate now. Because every person matters.

End the Imprisonment of Children & Mothers

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

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

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

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


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

Dear Mr. President,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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