Washington Week on Human Rights: August 22, 2016

Top Items

Private Prisons

In the wake of last week’s announcement by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that it will end its reliance on private prisons, Human Rights First called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end the use of private and other immigration detention that is inconsistent with international human rights standards.

The use of immigration detention has risen sharply under the Obama Administration, with more asylum seekers sent to immigration detention, often being held there for months.

Instead of relying on private prisons, or substituting them with county and local jails, DHS should invest in smarter decisions to reduce the number of asylum seekers and immigrants unnecessarily sent into immigration detention, and make better release assessments so that individuals who are eligible for release on parole or bond are not needlessly held in detention facilities for many months at substantial fiscal and personal costs.


Last week the Obama Administration transferred 15 Gitmo detainees to the United Arab Emirates in what is the largest transfer of detainees since President Obama took office, marking significant progress towards closing the facility by the end of his term.

The 15 transfers come as Congress prepares to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill includes language that would make it nearly impossible for President Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that national security leaders from across the political spectrum have urged the president and Congress to make shuttering this facility a top priority.

This week two of the four detainees still eligible will receive their first Periodic Review Board hearing. The Obama Administration has stated that it plans to complete all initial PRB hearings and transfer all cleared detainees by this fall.

Mothers in Detention

Today marks two weeks since 22 mothers detained at the Berks County Detention Facility in Pennsylvania—many for nearly one year—began a hunger strike to protest their continued detention and the severe impact it has had on their children’s health and well-being. In an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the women detailed their traumatic experiences in detention.

Human Rights First notes that even a few days in detention can be harmful to the health of children. Some mothers and children have been held in U.S. immigration detention for over one year. Human Rights First notes in its new issue brief that this approach is not only devastating to children, it is also a waste of government resources. As an alternative to detaining families at taxpayer cost, families can be released to live with relatives in the United States as they pursue their court cases. If additional measures are needed to ensure appearance, they can be released to community support programs, which are far more cost-effective than detention.

The Obama Administration’s long-term detention of mothers and children at Berks comes at a time when the administration is detaining record numbers of asylum seekers, as documented in Human Rights First’s new report, “Lifeline on Lockdown: Increased U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers.”

Quote of the Week

“Humanitarian workers understand that what we share is far greater than what divides us. They aid those in trouble regardless of their nationality, political affiliation, religion, sex, or race. They go into the bleakest, most dangerous places on earth and risk their lives for strangers. They feed, clothe, heal, and defend the dignity of those in need. They answer cynicism and savagery with compassion.

“On this World Humanitarian Day, we pay tribute to all humanitarians, we draw inspiration from their countless acts of heroism, and we thank them for being the emissaries of the conscience of the world.”

—Secretary Kerry, World Humanitarian Day 2016, August 19

We’re Reading

Politico reports that human rights activists are calling on President Obama to double refugee intake.

The Washington Post writes about the largest single release of Guantanamo detainees ever.

The Guardian reports on a group of 22 mothers that are staging a hunger striking in protest of a year in immigration detention.

The Nation writes about why children are being kept in immigration detention.

Shawn Gaylord writes in The Advocate that for many LGBT communities, hosting Pride is an act of rebellion.

CBC News writes that time is running out for President Obama to close Guantanamo.

Around Town

On Sunday, August 28 advocates and allies will gather on the National Mall for the DC Rally for Refugees in order to raise awareness about the global refugee crisis. For more information visit the rally’s website or follow #DCRally4Refugees on Twitter. Sunday, August 28, 2016, 10:00 AM-2:30 PM (Rain or Shine).


Published on August 22, 2016


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