Washington Week on Human Rights: October 26, 2015

Top News

Family Immigration Detention The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has announced that it will not renew the license of the Berks County Residential Center, a detention facility used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold families seeking asylum. After the facility’s license expires in February 2016, it will no longer be allowed to operate as a family detention facility permitted to hold up to 96 individuals. Human Rights First pushed for state officials to revoke the Berks facility’s license, citing interviews with parents and children who have expressed anxiety and stress over their “incarceration” and “imprisonment.” An August Human Rights First report on the Berks family detention facility found that children and their parents detained at the facility experience tremendous legal and health challenges, including detrimental effects on their mental health that may begin within days of incarceration. The families also encounter delays in their immigration proceedings, lack access to legal counsel, and obstacles and delays to release. Last week, just prior to this announcement, Human Rights First released a new report, “Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging,” which finds that the Obama Administration’s continuing operation of family detention facilities negatively impacts the mental and physical health of children and their parents.

Guantanamo Last week President Obama vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, legislation that contains provisions that would make it difficult to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Human Rights First had urged the administration to veto the bill so that President Obama can fulfill his promise to shutter the facility before the end of his second term. Now, the president must explain his plan to achieve that goal. There are currently 114 detainees remaining at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Fifty-four of the remaining detainees are cleared for transfer and another 47 are eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) hearings. Human Rights First’s plan to close Guantanamo is outlined in its blueprint “How to Close Guantanamo.”

Global Refugee Crisis Tomorrow, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard, and Leon Rodriguez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the humanitarian crisis stemming from the ongoing conflict in Syria. According to the United Nations, 7.6 million people are currently displaced in Syria and need immediate humanitarian assistance, and over 4 million have fled due to conflict and persecution. The U.N. global humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is only 40 percent funded, and food assistance has been cut. Without meaningful access to resettlement in other safe countries, many are turning to more dangerous routes to reach places of safety where they can rebuild their lives. So far, the United States has committed to increase its overall refugee resettlement for refugees from all countries for the year only by 15,000, and has committed only to resettle “at least 10,000” Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. Human Rights First continues to urge the Obama Administration to lead a global effort to address the situation, including increasing the overall refugee ceiling to 200,000 to support a commitment to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.

National Pro Bono Week This week is National Pro Bono Week, a global celebration of professional services for the public good. Human Rights First will spend this week celebrating its refugee representation program partners, leading law firm attorneys from across the nation who donate almost 80,000 hours of their time annually—a donation the equivalent of almost $40 million in legal fees—to asylum clients. These pro bono attorneys also provide invaluable support to Human Rights First in other ways, including preparing amicus curiae briefs in cases involving important issues of international human rights law. Learn more about some of Human Rights First’s inspiring pro bono attorney partners here.

Quote of the Week

“(T)his legislation specifically impeded our ability to close Guantanamo in a way that I have repeatedly argued is counterproductive to our efforts to defeat terrorism around the world. Guantanamo is one of the premiere mechanisms for jihadists to recruit. It’s time for us to close it. It is outdated; it’s expensive; it’s been there for years. And we can do better in terms of keeping our people safe while making sure that we are consistent with our values.”

Remarks by President Obama as he vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016

We’re Reading

Washington TimesMcClatchy, and The Hill reported on the president’s veto of the defense authorization act, citing Obama’s concerns over Guantanamo transfer restrictions

As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania declined to renew the license of the family detention center in Berks County, PA.

The Philadelphia InquirerLos Angeles Times featured a new Human Rights First report, finding that even stays in family detention centers of less than two weeks are harmful to children and their parents.

MSNBC’s Amanda Sakuma argued that the decision not to renew the license at the Berks family detention center demonstrates the lack of legal justification for holding children and their parents in immigration detention.

Courthouse News Service reported on the security issues at play as the United States grapples with how best to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.

We’re Watching

Last week, during its annual dinner in New York City, Human Rights First presented its 2015 Human Rights Award to Jane Braden-Golay, President of the European Union of Jewish Students (Switzerland); Siavosh Derakhti, Founder and Director of Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia (Sweden); and Niddal El-Jabri, Organizer of the Copenhagen Ring of Peace (Denmark). The three activists were recognized for their courage, determination, and innovation in combating religious intolerance and the rise of antisemitism in Europe. This video captures a bit about their stories and the important role they each play in combatting antisemitism in Europe.

We’re Listening

The 2015 Human Rights First Award winners also appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show to discuss their work combating antisemitism in Europe.

On the Hill

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Senate Armed Services Committee will host a hearing on “United States Military Strategy in the Middle East.” The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Defense, and General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Chairman of The Joint Chief Of Staff, will testify. 9:30AM, Room SD-G50, Dirksen Senate Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The Global Crisis of Religious Freedom.” Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and State Department Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein will testify. 1 PM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Examining the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis from the Ground (Part II).” Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, and Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, will testify. 2PM, 2167 Rayburn House Office Building

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “The U.S. Role and Strategy in the Middle East.” Assistant Secretary of State in Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL, will testify. 9:30AM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “Oversight of the United States Department of Justice.” Attorney General Loretta Lynch will testify. 10AM, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Thomas Shannon Jr. to be undersecretary of state for political affairs, 10AM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Around Town

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The George Washington University (GWU) Elliott School of International Affairs will host a discussion on “Countering Violent Extremism.” The event will feature State Department Director for Countering Violent Extremism Irfam Saeed. 2PM, GWU Elliott School, 805 21st Street NW, School of Media and Public Affairs Building, Room 306, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Woodrow Wilson Center’s (WWC) Latin American Program will host a discussion on “Women on the Run: First-Hand Accounts of Refugees Fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.” The event will feature U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres; Leslie Velez, senior protection officer at the UNHCR Washington office; Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Eric Olson, associate director of the WWC Latin American Program. 11AM, WWC, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.


Published on October 26, 2015


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