IACHR Should Hold Hearing on Rights of Central Americans Held in Detention

New York CityHuman Rights First called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to hold a hearing to address the ongoing violations of the human rights of children and families fleeing persecution and violence in Central America who are detained in the United States. The call came in a letter to the commission signed by Human Rights First along with the ACLU, the American Immigration Council, Center for Justice and International Law, Human Rights Watch, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, RAICES, the University of Pennsylvania Law School Transnational Legal Clinic, the University of Texas School of Law Clinical Legal Education, and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

“We respectfully request the Commission grant our request for a thematic hearing during which advocates will provide updates on the processing and detention of children and families in the United States, will seek to engage the United States on recommendations set forth in the report released by this honorable Commission, and will discuss and offer recommendations aimed at bringing the United States into compliance with its human rights obligations,” wrote the groups in the letter  “We seek the hearing in recognition of the vital role the Commission has played and can continue to play by granting a hearing and thus engaging the United States in a dialogue at this critical juncture.”

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), Organization of American States (OAS) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the Western hemisphere. The IACHR is authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations by all 35 members of the OAS, including the United States. If the request is granted, the hearing will be held during the 157th session of the commission in April 2016. While the United States has asserted that the provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Commission’s recommendations are not legally binding, an IACHR hearing and the ensuing recommendations nevertheless offer an additional avenue for advocacy and accountability with respect to refugee children and families seeking protection in the United States. A hearing would require the United States’ presence to articulate its positions.

The United States has long employed the misguided policy of locking up vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, typically in facilities with prison-like conditions, for months or years at a time. Earlier this month, Human Rights First staff visited detention facilities in California, Texas, and New Jersey, where asylum seekers and immigrants are held even when they could be released through more humane and cost effective initiatives. Research has shown that immigration detention causes additional harm to already traumatized asylum seekers and other migrants who have suffered previous trauma. More humane alternatives to detention, including case management and community based programs, have been shown to be effective at securing appearance. Community-based alternatives may cost as little as 20 percent of the cost of detention.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of detention. The Human Rights First report, “Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging,” found that, as detailed in medical and mental health research, detention—even for relatively short periods of time—is harmful to children and families. Leading pediatricians, physicians, and social workers have described the negative effects of immigration detention on children, which include behavioral regressions, depression, anxiety, and suicidality.


Published on January 21, 2016


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