On International Migrants Day, Human Rights First Urges U.S. Government to Protect the Rights of Migrants

New York City – To mark International Migrants Day, Human Rights First today calls on the Obama Administration to protect the human rights of all migrants by working to ensure U.S. policies and practices are in line with international human rights commitments. In particular, the organization urged the administration to abandon immigration detention policies that violate U.S. commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Refugee Convention.

“U.S. migration detention laws and policies violate international human rights standards and American ideals, depriving many people of their liberty in cases when detention is not necessary and blocking many migrants from receiving prompt court review of their detention.” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “As a nation of immigrants and a global leader, the United States can and should set a better example to the rest of the world. On International Migrants Day, we urge the administration to start taking steps to better protect the rights of vulnerable migrants and refugees fleeing violence and persecution in search of safety.”

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 if 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,” finds 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.

In order to protect the human rights of migrants seeking protection in the United States, Human Rights First recommends that the administration and Congress:

  • Revise immigration laws and policies to use detention only as a last resort, when other less restrictive measures will not be effective;
  • Subject all detention to prompt review by an immigration judge, and subsequently by a U.S. federal court judge;
  • Stop sending families with children in to immigration detention, and to the extent they are detained, limit that detention to several days, rather than weeks or longer;
  • Ensure asylum seekers are not generally detained, and are released after passing a credible fear screening interview, unless in their individual cases they present a danger; and
  • Reject policies that discriminate against migrants based on their religions or nationality.

A broad array of voices have called on the administration to end the practice of detaining families, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, Catholic and Lutheran Bishops, and 178 Members of Congress and 35 Senators.

Press

Published on December 18, 2015

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