Author: Sofía Muñoz
This article was first published in the Fall 2020 issue of The Advocate.
Latin American and U.S. human rights activists brought severe violations of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers affected by U.S. policies to the attention of an international human rights organization, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The hearings are an opportunity for civil society organizations to present cases of human rights violations to the commission and to give government representatives a chance to respond.
The “Regional situation of the human rights of migrants, refugees and unaccompanied children” hearing was led by Global Exchange and the University of San Francisco Migration Studies Program and supported by over thirty civil society organizations from the United States, Mexico and Central America, including LAWG.
“The anarchy at the U.S.-Mexico border finds itself in a level of gravity without precedent in the history of the United States and Mexico. This is a direct result of racist policies and it is the maximum expression of violations of human rights,” said Laura Peña, pro bono counsel at the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration.
Maira Delgado Laurens, a University of San Francisco Migration Studies graduate student, highlighted the Trump Administration’s implementation of the so-called “Title 42 CDC order” which closed the U.S. border to migrants and asylum seekers using the excuse of the pandemic, as a major point of concern. “[Its implementation] was based on political reasons, not security,” said Delgado Laurens. Peña added that the Trump Administration’s argument for expelling migrants was they cannot be in “congregate settings,” yet current conditions in U.S. detention centers show this is not their true intent, as the U.S. government has been quite willing to hold immigrants in crowded detention centers, even as COVID-19 cases spread within ICE facilities.
Nicole Elizabeth Ramos, border rights project director at Al Otro Lado, noted that since January 2019, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of kidnappings and rapes, affecting women and families with small children on the Mexican side of the border. Criminal organizations have taken advantage of migrants’ increased vulnerability due to the pandemic and the Trump Administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) forcing migrants and asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, which, “in reality should be referred to as the Migrant Persecution Protocols because that is more in line with its intent,” said Ramos.
Padre Melo (Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J.), a Jesuit priest and human rights activist from Honduras, focused on the flawed and dangerous logic behind the United States’ “safe third country” agreements with Central American countries, which deny asylum seekers the right to protection in the United States and deport them to countries they are not from. “These asylum cooperative agreements are more threats than opportunities for migrants and refugees, and they respond more to the discriminatory policies of the United States government than to decisions based on the respect for human rights of the recipients of these agreements,” said Padre Melo. And, as seen from the militarized response of the Guatemalan government towards Honduran migrants in October 2020, “The U.S. border is already in Guatemala.”
Julissa Mantilla, IACHR Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants and Older Persons, acknowledged these reports and said, “What we see here is a complex violation of human rights. There is a situation of human rights violations in the origins of migration… but at the moment of being returned in this forced manner, more human rights violations are being produced.”
The civil society organizations called for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to condemn the actions of the U.S. government and encouraged the international community to take measures to hold the United States accountable. LAWG echoes the sentiments raised by our partners in this hearing and will continue to monitor the conditions of human rights in the region while pushing for more humanitarian policies that protect all migrants and asylum seekers.