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Amnesty Urges Halt in Immigration Enforcement; Calls for I.G. Inspection

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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Amnesty International USA is calling on the Obama Administration to suspend and review all immigration enforcement programs to halt what it describes as "a pattern of human rights violations."

In a new report, "In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest," the organization highlights "systemic failures of federal, state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws" equitably and without racial and ethnic profiling. The Report is based on an intensive study of conditions in Arizona and Texas.

Communities living along the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly Latinos, individuals perceived to be of Latino origin and Indigenous communities, are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations, Amnesty reports.

Among the many findings, the report illustrates that "The United States is failing in its obligations to respect immigrants' right to life, ensure access to justice for immigrant survivors of crime, particularly women and children, and recognize the border crossing rights of indigenous communities."

The Report charges that, according to the U.S. government, "there are approximately 14,500-17,500 people trafficked into the United States each year for labor or sexual exploitation. However, it says, "Barriers caused by breakdowns in the system that identify immigrant survivors of trafficking leave many without any relief from immigration detention and deportation. Of the 5,000 T-visas available annually to survivors of human trafficking, statistics show that only six percent are actually utilized."

A woman named Carolina is a case in point. Carolina is a Honduran native who was brought to the United States after being repeatedly sold for sex, beaten and drugged, was held for six months in detention in Pearsall, Texas, after immigration agents found her in the trunk of a car crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. While detained, Carolina was denied certification as a trafficking victim because she had originally wanted to come to the United States voluntarily before she was sold into sexual slavery and trafficked into the country.

It was only after a review of her case in February 2011, more than two years after she was discovered in a car trunk, that Carolina's trafficking victim visa was approved, allowing her to remain in the United States and become eligible for mental health and support services.   "Now, I can finally begin to heal," Carolina said following her release from detention.

"The culture around immigration in the United States has created a perfect storm -- survivors of trafficking and other crimes like domestic violence are increasingly seen as criminals rather than as victims," said attorney Justin Mazzola, Amnesty International researcher and lead author of the report.

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He added, "At the same time, fewer people are willing to report such crimes, as they feel it may expose them to immigration enforcement.   In addition, many feel that police will be unable or unwilling to help."  

Immigration control measures increasingly jeopardize individuals' right to life when crossing the border.   U.S. policies intentionally reroute migrants from traditional entry points to the most hostile terrain in the Southwest United States, including crossings over vast deserts, rivers and high mountains in searing heat.   From 1998 to 2008, as many as 5,287 migrants died while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The report finds that indigenous communities are left particularly vulnerable to discrimination and other abuses stemming from immigration enforcement. Indigenous peoples, whose traditional territories and cultural communities span the U.S.-Mexico border and necessitate frequent crossings, are often intimidated and harassed by border officials for speaking little Spanish or English and holding only tribal identification documents.

Furthermore, federal immigration programs that engage state and local police in enforcing immigration laws place Latino communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color along the border at risk of discriminatory profiling.

To correct that specific problem, AI is calling on US Customs and Border Protection to work with Tribal Authorities to develop programs to and facilitate the use of Indigenous/ Tribal passports, identity papers and immigration documents for travel across borders, specifically for Tribes in the southwestern border area. \

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The DHS should ensure that qualifications for these documents are not so burdensome as to create a barrier for Indigenous people to qualify, the report says.

"Because monitoring and oversight of these immigration programs is vastly inadequate, those responsible for human rights abuses are rarely held to account.   As a result, such practices, including targeting individuals based on their perceived ethnicity, have become commonplace and entrenched, fostering a culture of impunity that perpetuates discriminatory profiling," Mazzola said.

The recent proliferation of state laws that target immigrants place them at further risk of discrimination and impedes their right to access education and essential health care services," he added.

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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