Washington Week on Human Rights: August 10, 2015
IMMIGRATION DETENTION The U.S. government issued a response Friday to the federal court ruling that orders an end to the Obama Administration’s policy of holding children and their mothers in immigration detention facilities for weeks or longer. The California District Court Judge Dolly Gee ruled at the end of July that the administration’s family detention policy violates a nearly two decades-old court settlement regarding the detention of immigrant children. Judge Gee’s ruling requires that children be released without unnecessary delay to a family member in order of preference beginning with parents, including the accompanying parent who was detained with the child. The government’s brief makes clear that the administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still wish to use immigration detention to “dis-incentivize” or deter families from seeking protection in this country. While some families have been released, many new families have been sent into immigration detention facilities in their place. Human Rights First staff reported conditions on the ground that stand in stark contrast to the picture painted by the government in its response to the ruling, noting that many of the children and their mothers experience trauma, sleep deprivation, and depression. For more information read Human Rights First’s recent report on family detention.
BAHRAIN Following the State Department’s recent lifting of the ban on weapons sales to the Bahrain Defence Force, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced a new bill to impose a legislative ban on certain arms sales to Bahrain. In June of this year the State Department announced it would be lifting its 2011 ban on the sale of weapons, citing “meaningful progress on human rights reforms.” Meanwhile, the Bahraini government has continued to target peaceful dissenters, opposition figures, and human rights defenders. The new bill would prohibit the sale to Bahrain of certain arms until the State Department certifies that Bahrain has fully implemented all of the recommendations made by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an inquiry commissioned by the king of Bahrain to investigate human rights violations in early 2011. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) has confirmed he intends to introduce similar legislation in the House when it reconvenes after the break.
DUE PROCESS The State Department issued a response on Friday to observations filed in the case of Bernardo Aban Tercero by Human Rights First in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Tercero, a Nicaraguan national, has been on death row in Texas since 2000 and faces execution on August 26. The petition filed cited evidence that Tercero has had ineffective assistance of counsel at every stage of his proceedings, including a failure to fully investigate his background or social history as is required to meet minimum American Bar Association standards for representation in a capital case. Additionally, despite significant evidence of risk factors, there is no evidence that Tercero himself was ever evaluated for mental illness or intellectual disability, which if diagnosed would make him ineligible for the death penalty under U.S. and international law. The State Department’s response failed to address these violations of due process. The Nicaraguan government has expressed interest in the case, submitting a letter to President Obama requesting that Tercero be pardoned. The letter has been forwarded to Texas Governor Greg Abbott for consideration.
Quote of the Week
“The Bahraini government’s ongoing repression of its citizens is unacceptable, and the U.S. should not be providing weapons which could be used to suppress peaceful dissent until the government adopts meaningful political reforms.”
-Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), August 7, 2015
In a piece for The Chicago Sun-Times, Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez made the case for Congress to increase appropriations funding for DOJ programs aimed at combating human trafficking.
The New York Times published an editorial about the California District Court decision ruling against the continuation of family detention, arguing that “the mass detention of families offends American values.”
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report, Human Rights First’s Amy Sobel wrote for The Hill, raising the questions about the report that need to be answered in order to ensure its effectiveness as a diplomatic tool moving forward.
MSNBC reported on the U.S. government’s response to the family detention ruling, highlighting consensus from human rights groups and Congress that the administration should stop detaining children and their mothers.
Reuters reported on concerns raised by Members of Congress around the 2015 Trafficking in Persons report.
During an interview with NPR, Dr. Katherine McKenzie, who works to verify claims of torture by refugees seeking asylum, shares some of the stories of those who have fled violence and persecution in their home countries to seek asylum in the United States.