Washington Week on Human Rights: July 25, 2016

Top News

Immigration Detention

Human Rights First today released a new report detailing the increase in asylum seekers held in U.S. immigration detention facilities and the failure of the Obama Administration, specifically the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, to effectively implement existing parole guidance for asylum seekers and reasonable bond levels for indigent individuals held in immigration detention.

The report, which analyzes new data and provides examples of asylum seekers denied release and unnecessarily held in detention for long periods of time, offers recommendations to the administration and Congress for how to abide by and improve existing policies and ensure compliance with U.S. international human rights and refugee protection commitments.

The report, “Lifeline on Lockdown: Increased U.S. Detention of Asylum Seekers,” is based on months of in-depth research on detention practices and policies relating to adult asylum seekers.


Recently Human Rights First asked Republican and Democratic leadership to heed the call of 62 of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals who urged the parties’ platform committees to unequivocally reject the use of torture. The Democratic National Convention is set to begin today in Philadelphia, with core party members arriving last week to start finalizing the official positions of the party. Last Thursday the Republican National Convention concluded in Cleveland, Ohio.

Immigration Court Backlog

Last week, in light of reports that the backlog in U.S. immigration courts has topped half a million cases, Human Rights First called on Congress to adequately fund, and for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to hire, immigration judge positions in an effort to reduce delays in the immigration court system.

The news comes as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) recently announced that it swore in 15 judges in June, bringing the total number of judges on the bench to 273, a new high for the court. Human Rights First notes, however, that EOIR still needs to fill all 374 positions currently funded by Congress; a total of 524 judges are required to eliminate the backlog and adjudicate incoming cases in a timely manner. The House of Representatives has included funding for 25 new immigration judge teams in their Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill but the Senate has not included funding for any new immigration judge teams.

Earlier this year Human Rights First released a report detailing how chronic underfunding, hiring challenges, and shifting enforcement strategies have led to alarming backlogs in the U.S. asylum and immigration systems.

Guantanamo Bay

Proceedings continue this week at the Guantanamo Bay military commission with pretrial hearings in the case against the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. Fifty-nine motions in the case are up for consideration, including a motion to dismiss the entire case because of the government’s alleged destruction of evidence at a CIA black site, a motion requiring the prosecution to release information about all locations in which the defendants have been held and tortured, and several motions regarding the violation of attorney-client privilege.

National security leaders including CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair have declared the need to close Guantanamo a matter of national security. Three dozen of the nation’s most respected retired military leaders recently urged Congress “to come together and find a path to finally shutter the detention facility.”

The Pentagon’s plan for closing Guantanamo, which includes the transfer of all cleared detainees, is in line with recommendations made in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo.”


Last week members of Congress issued a call to their counterparts in the Moldovan government to reject a bill that threatens the human rights of Moldova’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. The legislation, modeled after Russia’s law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” was approved in May by various committees in the Moldovan parliament.

In a letter organized by Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) in close coordination with Human Rights First, a bipartisan group of 24 members of Congress called on Moldova’s parliament to protect marginalized communities and to honor their country’s commitment to basic freedoms guaranteed in the Moldovan constitution. Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia,” details how Russia’s homophobic laws and policies have spread throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and outlines key steps that the U.S. government can take to stop the spread of laws and policies that infringe on the human rights of the LGBT community.


Quote of the Week
“All of us have those obligations — whether we are Christian, or Jew, or Hindu, or Muslim, or of no faith at all. We have to reaffirm that in this country, it is our obligation to abide by the law, to look out for each other, to be part of a single community — and that we can still appreciate our differences and retain those things that are essential to our identities, and still strongly affirm our commitment and our faith in this country.”

—Remarks by President Barack Obama at the White House Eid al-Fitr Reception on July 21, 2016


We’re Reading
Reuters and the Associated Press report on a Bahrain court’s decision to dissolve the country’s main Shi’ite opposition party Al-Wefaq.

Think Progress writes that immigrants are being told to “Get in Line” and are waiting for years in immigration court backlogs.

Deseret News reports that the United States has reached the halfway mark towards accepting ten thousand Syrian refugees by September 30.

Fox News reports that the recent terror attack in France is stoking the refugee debate on the campaign trail.


We’re Listening to
NBC News shares the story of Syrian refugee children offered a glimpse of childhood, through a camera lens.


Published on July 25, 2016


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