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April 8, 2016, Rights Reading

April 8, 2016

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!

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.

“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.

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