Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. Rights Reading will be going on hiatus for a spell but expect to see it back as soon as possible!

1.Why Your Water Could Be Worse Than Flint’s,” by Laura Orlando, In These Times

“Since Flint, there’s been a new spotlight on lead in drinking water. But children in minority neighborhoods have been exposed to lead from water and other sources, like peeling lead paint, for a long time. The Centers for Disease Control consistently reports that black children have the highest risk of lead poisoning in the United States, sometimes two or three times more likely than white children to have elevated lead levels in their blood.”

An in-depth look at the particulars of the Flint water crisis — and the ways that the same problems show up throughout the country — with special attention to how race plays into it. UUSC’s Patricia Jones has found that 53% of African American Michiganders are living in cities that have violated the human rights to water and sanitation under Snyder Administration “emergency management” austerity measures, as opposed to 3% of white Michiganders.

This In These Times analysis also addresses the looming specter of water privatization: “Private companies come and go. They also are not compelled to provide services to those who cannot pay.” Remember: the human right to water means that all people have a right to accessible, safe, sufficient, and affordable water for daily human needs. This article zeroes in on the safety piece but also touches on the affordability piece. Expect a lot from UUSC over the coming months about that — we’re working on a big report about water affordability! Stay up to date on UUSC’s work to advance the human right to water.

2. “Locked Up for Seeking Asylum,” by Elizabeth Rubin, New York Times

“For one thing, it says that the system is stacked against the asylum seeker. The immigration judge works for the Department of Justice, and the government’s attorney works for the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the asylum seeker generally has no right to a public defender. Legal representation is crucial: One study found that mothers with children without a lawyer were granted asylum 2 percent of the time while those with a lawyer won 32 percent of the time.”

This opinion piece in the New York Times SundayReview section highlights a whole host of problems with the current asylum process in the United States, including lengthy periods in detention, shocking rejections, obstacles in obtaining legal resources, and more. As Rachel Freed, UUSC’s vice president and chief program officer, has said, “For those who do risk seeking asylum at borders, it still is the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure that international legal protection and screening standards are met by allowing children and families full, unobstructed access to legal counsel, minimal detention time with responsible, non-abusive treatment while there, and swift release to those who qualify for asylum claims.” As UUSC research has shown, the conditions that asylum seekers experience in immigration detention can further traumatize people who have already been traumatized by the violence and persecution they fled in their home countries. The system needs to change. We have a few ideas. And a way for you to take action to protect children seeking asylum!

3. Closed Doors: Mexico’s Failure to Protect Central American Refugee and Migrant Children, by Human Rights Watch

“By law, Mexico offers protection to refugees as well as to others who would face risks to their lives or safety if returned to their countries of origin. Mexican government data suggest, however, that less than 1 percent of children who are apprehended by Mexican immigration authorities are recognized as refugees or receive other formal protection in Mexico.”

This report from Human Rights Watch illustrates in detail how it’s not just the United States failing people seeking asylum — Mexico is, too, and especially children. With tens of thousands of children traveling to and through Mexico every year from the violence of the Northern Triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), this report further underscores the need for more adequate support for these kids who are fleeing for their lives in hopes of finding safety and brighter futures.

Rights Reading

Experiences of a Refugee

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Why Is It So Difficult for Syrian Refugees to Get Into the U.S.?” by Eliza Griswold, New York Times Magazine

“The al-Haj Alis are five of the 2,647 Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the United States, roughly 0.06 percent of the more than 4.5 million driven from the country since the uprising began in 2011. . . . ‘It’s extremely difficult to get into the United States as a refugee — the odds of winning the Powerball are probably better,’ says David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee.”

Collecting biometric data, undergoing intensive screening interviews, repaying loans for air travel, and more — an in-depth exploration, through the experiences of the al-Haj Ali family, of the hurdles that Syrians face in seeking safe haven in the United States. The difficulties the al-Haj Alis faced (and still face, with one son and his family stuck in Jordan) in making their way to safety in the United States are some of the reasons we’ve urged President Obama to accept more Syrian refugees in particular (and more refugees in general); worked against legislation like the “SAFE” Act, which would essentially ban Syrian and other Muslim refugees from the United States; and supported refugees on the ground throughout Europe.
2. “The paradox at the heart of Obama’s Central American refugee policy,” by Dara Lind, Vox

“At the same time that the US is promising to bring people out of Central America to the US, it’s fighting very hard to send some Central Americans back. To advocates, immigration judges, and Central American diplomats, it’s a dangerous paradox. There appear to be serious concerns that the same people the US wants to save from danger in Central America are the ones it’s deporting.”

A great Vox explainer of a disturbing phenomenon in U.S. immigration. While we welcome news of the new U.S.-U.N. program to process asylum seekers in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, we too see the paradox of deporting people back to those same countries. As Rachel Gore Freed, UUSC’s vice president and chief program officer says, “”Expanding the U.S. refugee resettlement program is plainly a step in the right direction in terms of recognizing the Central American humanitarian crisis. But the provision must not be used as a pretext for criminalizing those who may continue to seek asylum at our border.”

3. “Another Kind of Girl,” by Khaldiya, New York Times Op-Docs

In this mini-documentary, a 17-year-old Syrian refugee presents her life in a refugee camp. Survivors of crises throughout the world deserve every opportunity to tell their own stories — and it’s essential that we listen. This act of listening to what communities want and need is foundational to our approach in advancing human rights.

Inform Your Activism: Talking about the Central American Refugee Crisis

As the United States conducts raids, roundups, and deportations of asylum-seeking children and families from Central America, it’s important to know what's true, what's right, and what's legal. Use the key points and background below to inform your conversations and actions.

Key points | Background and update | Key points in detail

Key points

Click on each key point to read more detail.

  1. The Department of Homeland Security is using state police tactics — from family detention and abuses to home raids and roundups — to rush deportations, instill fear among immigrants in the United States, and deter other Central American asylum seekers from coming to the United States.
      
  2. It is imperative to be clear on the legal distinctions: asylum seekers and refugees are not "illegal immigrants."
     
  3. The main issue is whether these women and children have been given adequate screening and due process to determine their eligibility for international protection and asylum in the United States.
     
  4. The United States is not abiding by international accords regarding asylum seekers' rights, deportation, and refoulement (forcing refugees back to a place of persecution and danger).
     
  5. The U.S. refugee processing program for minors still in Central America is a sham and a failure. Within the United States, vulnerable asylum-seeking children are getting the short end of the rights stick.

Background and update

On December 24, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would begin rounding up Central American asylum seekers who have entered the United States since 2014, who have subsequently received removal orders, and whose asylum requests allegedly failed to gain acceptance. Deportation raids of private homes began the weekend of January 2, mainly in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, and DHS reported that 121 individuals were taken into custody.

The raids reportedly included illegal entries to private homes without warrants, searching for unaccompanied children and families who entered the United States after 2014, and whose requests for asylum have been denied. Immigration lawyers, UUSC, and other human rights advocates, organizations and, lawmakers are decrying the tactics, saying most families being rounded up in invasive household raids for deportation either still have pending cases or never had adequate access in the first place to translators and legal counsel to understand their rights and the processes required for their asylum claims, as is mandated federally for asylum seekers.

According to U.S. statistics, unaccompanied Central American children began crossing the southern U.S. border in 2013. In the summer of 2014, a surge of unaccompanied children and families began to pour over the border, mainly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Since the 2014 surge, the DHS reports that some 100,000 have been held and processed. Then they have either been deported, detained in family detention centers (some for more than a year), or, for those who qualify, released on bail or with electronic monitoring while they await court hearings for their asylum cases. As early as March 2015, the United States has ordered more than 7,000 of those children deported without hearing in court.

Children alone and mothers with children who have returned to the same violent environments they'd fled now face even greater threat of retribution and death, if their return is discovered by gang members and other perpetrators who had originally exploited them.

Key points in detail

1.  The Department of Homeland Security is using state police tactics — from family detention and abuses to home raids and roundups — to rush deportations, instill fear among immigrants in the United States, and deter other Central American asylum seekers from coming to the United States.

  • DHS’s recent tactics of raiding people’s homes and rounding up Central American asylum seekers is a thinly guised effort to drive fear within immigrant communities in the United States and in Central America, and to deter other child and adult asylum seekers who would seek safe haven and protection in the United States.   
  • Attorneys representing nearly a quarter of the families apprehended and on the edge of deportation the week of January 4 gained last-minute stays to their deportation orders by the highest U.S. immigrations appeal court.
  • The CARA pro bono attorneys project expedited assisting seven of those families over the weekend, and all were granted permission to stay in the United States temporarily.
  • Meanwhile, UUSC's partner RAICES reports that some women with asylum cases still pending have been visited for potential roundup and deportation.

2. It is imperative to be clear on the legal distinctions: asylum seekers and refugees are not "illegal immigrants."

  • Refugees and asylum seekers are a category of migrants distinct from the broader category of documented and undocumented immigrants who come to the United States or other countries for economic reasons or a better life. Asylum seekers are entitled by U.S. and international law to appeal for protection within the United States or other receiving countries and are entitled to due process and legal counsel.
  • Central American unaccompanied children and children with parents seeking asylum in the United States are refugees fleeing violence and death in their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As Royce Murray of the National Immigrant Justice Center said in a VICE News report, “There is a failure to recognize that this is a refugee flow.”
  • According to its Children on the Run report, UNHCR, the U.N.  Refugee Agency, has recommended that children of this population be treated as refugees.

3.  The main issue is whether these women and children have been given adequate screening and due process to determine their eligibility for international protection and asylum in the United States.

  • Asylum-seeking Central American families and unaccompanied children are being denied due process, misled, and obstructed in receiving sufficient access to legal counsel by the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and their contracted private detention center officials.
  • UUSC and other refugee rights advocates claim that DHS is leveraging the summer 2015 federal court ruling that mandated 20-day maximum detention of children and parents as a means to justify rushing them through the processing period in order to do the following:
    • Short-circuit and obstruct claimants' rightful access to legal counsel and representation for each step in the asylum seekers' review processes
    • Make it difficult for claimants to understand the system, processes, and requirements to prepare for their ultimate asylum case court hearings — or even to receive required legal notices of appointments and court dates
    • Expedite and increase deportations of families and unaccompanied children back to the violence they'd left and, as in numerous documented cases to date, to their deaths
  • Rights advocates and attorneys are finding that many of the Central American families now in detention from the raids and awaiting deportation — most of whom do not speak English and some who speak only indigenous languages — have never had access to proper legal counsel and representation.
  • That finding is consistent with UUSC's and pro bono attorneys' experience with this group of refugees since the crisis and practice of family detention began in 2014.
  • According to the research group TRAC, of 64,500 family migration cases that have filtered through the courts as of late 2015, all had passed the required "credible fear" interviews. Less than 40% had legal representation. Among those, a small fraction of the cases were fully resolved, resulting in fewer than 700 granted relief.
  • For those cases without counsel, however, the outcomes were even bleaker: just 38 were granted relief, and more than 15,300 ordered deported.

4. The United States is not abiding by international accords regarding asylum seekers' rights, deportation, and refoulement (forcing refugees back to a place where they face persecution and danger).

  • Consistent with the 1980 Refugee Act and the U.N. Convention against Torture, the U.S. government must ensure that all adults and children arriving at the U.S. border who express a fear of serious human rights violations, persecution, or torture be given due process and the opportunity to articulate their fear of return before an asylum officer.
  • The U.S. government stands to violate the principle of non-refoulement if these women and children asylum seekers have not been afforded these opportunities.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has attempted to justify its raids to date, saying it is deporting only unaccompanied children and families whose legal options for asylum have reached an end.
  • As Fusion reports, the Obama administration has set a record for the most deportations of any previous U.S. administration — more than 2.5 million. Tainting that record further are the probable inappropriate deportations back to violence now of Central American families and children.

5. The U.S. refugee processing program for minors still in Central America is a sham and a failure. Within the United States, vulnerable asylum-seeking children are getting the short end of the rights stick.

The U.S. Central American Minors Program

  • In December 2014, the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) created the Central American Minors program (CAM), under which minors from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala could apply in their home countries to be refugees in the United States and avoid the dangerous journey through Mexico.
  • As of October 6, 2015 — nearly a year after the program opened — the U.S. government said it had interviewed only 90 of nearly 4,000 Central Americans who had applied. Most of those interviewed were found eligible for assistance, but as of an October 28, 2015, Huffington Post report, none of those children had come to the United States.
  • As of November, more than 5,100 of the nearly 6,000 CAM applications have come from El Salvador. At point, 16 of them have been approved, according to department figures.

Within the United States

  • Children go through a truncated 21-day processing schedule known as “rocket dockets.” Many claimants lacked legal counsel or didn’t even show up for the hearing before their claims were rejected.
  • A recent exposé by Politico found that, within the United States, 7,600 children among the Central American refugees have either been ordered removed by an immigration judge or accepted terms of voluntary departure.
  • According to that same Politico report, in the first 13 months of the so-called surge (from July 18, 2014, through August 31, 2015), nearly 2,800 removal orders were issued by immigration judges for children and youth age 18 and younger who were afforded no defense lawyer and only a single hearing. Of those, at least 392 (40%) were 16 or younger. 
  • The Politico article cites a related and still pending federal lawsuit in Seattle “in which immigrant rights attorneys have argued that thousands of children have been denied their due process rights under the Constitution. . . . Thus far, Justice has successfully fought the case to largely a draw. But the presiding judge is clearly torn by the situation, and in an April order, he denied the administration’s request that the lawsuit be dismissed entirely."
  • According to Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a child is five times more likely to be deported without a lawyer, and yet there is no system for guaranteeing legal counsel for unaccompanied children.
  • Indeed, as cited by the Syracuse University research TRAC Immigration source, the U.S. government is under no obligation to provide legal counsel to the indigent, even if they are children, in immigration court proceedings. Meanwhile, the government is always represented by an attorney.
  • Although fewer children are entering the United States alone, the violence in their home countries has not decreased. Violence in El Salvador has in fact recently increased, according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

Deportation Kills. Stop the Raids.

Thousands of women and children who fled violence in Central America are being denied fair hearings for asylum and are facing deportation raids. Tell the Department of Homeland Security: stop the raids and ensure fair representation and hearings.

Stop the Raids on Families Seeking Asylum

Tell DHS: stop the raids

The recent tactics of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — raiding people's homes and rounding up Central American asylum seekers — are a thinly veiled effort to drive fear within immigrant communities and to further traumatize children and adult asylum seekers who seek safe haven and protection in the United States.

Even more appalling, we have heard from our partner RAICES that some women with cases still pending have been visited for potential roundup and deportation. These cases do not fall within the so-called DHS enforcement priorities. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has described the roundups as part of a strategy meant to deter further migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. However, the government has been told it cannot use deterrence to institute prolonged detention of these asylum seekers, so it is unclear why they believe they can use this to round up people who have not been given due process to pursue their asylum claims.

The main issue is whether these women and children have been given adequate screening and due process to determine their eligibility for international protection and asylum in the United States. In many cases, the government has hindered their access to legal counsel, denying them the chance to seek humanitarian protection in accordance with international law. A recent exposé by Politico found that between July 18, 2014, and Auguse 31, 2015, nearly 2,800 removal orders were issued by immigration judges for children who were afforded no defense lawyer and only a single hearing. In at least 40% of these cases, the defendant was 16 or younger.

Consistent with the 1980 Refugee Act and the U.N. Convention against Torture, the U.S. government must ensure that all adults and children arriving at the U.S. border who express a fear of serious human rights violations, persecution, or torture be given due process and the opportunity to articulate their fear of return before an asylum officer. The U.S. government stands to violate international legal principle if these women and children have not been afford these opportunities.

How you can help

Take action with UUSC and tell DHS to stop the raids.

Become a refugee family advocate in your city. RAICES is looking for people to help recently arrived refugees find support services. Priority cities are: Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, Charlotte, Memphis, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, NYC, Chicago, Arlington, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.

Come to Texas and volunteer to end family detention. The UU College of Social Justice is seeking skilled volunteers, including fluent Spanish speakers, lawyers, law students, and paralegals, to work with families currently in detention this upcoming summer. 

Judge Rules against Jailing Refugee Children

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the Obama administration has to stop housing refugee children in jail-like conditions.

This decision could spell the end of family detention — but the Obama administration challenged the initial ruling, and it could continue to appeal it if we don’t act now.

Administration officials have one week to decide whether to appeal the judge’s ruling. As long as they tie this up in court, the fate of these families is up in the air.

Tell the Obama administration: It’s time to end family detention for asylum seekers, once and for all. Comply with the judge’s decision. Don’t appeal Flores v. Johnson.

Most people are shocked to learn how the United States treats families seeking political asylum: they’re imprisoned in jail-like detention camps where suicide attempts, abusive treatment, and malnourishment are documented realities.

For months, human rights and immigration activists like you have called on the Obama administration to end the practice of detaining children.

I’ve visited the camps these families are stuck in. I’ve met the children. They came to us for safety, and we’ve traumatized them once more.

Their parents haven’t broken any law — they’ve fled death threats and abuse, and they’ve sought refuge from the unchecked violence enveloping Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. And most have passed their initial asylum screenings, which means the Obama administration (DHS) should release them and their families while they await their hearings. Yet DHS has kept these families on lockdown. And as long as DHS keeps appealing and disputing this ruling, women and children who pose no flight risk will stillbe jailed until their final hearings — some forced indiscriminately to wear GPS ankle tracking devices.

The court’s decision has given us the tools we need to end family detention and win more humane treatment of asylum seekers. This is our moment. We can get them to listen.

Tell the Obama administration: in the United States, we don’t imprison people who haven’t committed a crime.

It just breaks your heart to see children suffering in circumstances like this. Their physical, mental, and emotional development is at stake, and we don’t have a moment to waste.

Thanks for putting your beliefs into action.