Top Items

Immigration Detention

Human Rights First and 229 partner organizations today called on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson to take immediate steps to address the nation’s escalating immigration detention crisis. In a letter, the groups expressed alarm over record-level immigration detention rates, noting that DHS will likely detain up to 47,000 immigrants per day by next summer, which far exceeds the congressionally imposed bed quota of 34,000 detention beds. Moreover, DHS detains up to 3,600 mothers and children per day, the vast majority of whom have endured violence and persecution in Central America and have significant claims for humanitarian protection.

The letter also expressed concern that immigration detention is largely run by for-profit prisons that detain children, mothers, and asylum seekers at the expense of American taxpayers, a policy that is inconsistent with recent decisions within the Department of Justice to move away from government contracting with private companies to operate federal prisons. The groups note that DHS should immediately act to reduce unnecessary and prolonged detention and to move toward policies that respect human rights and are more cost-effective.


On October 26, National Security Advisor Susan Rice delivered a major policy speech detailing many of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments in advancing the human rights of LGBT people and the challenges that remain. The event was co-sponsored by Human Rights First, the Human Rights Campaign, and American University. During her remarks, Ambassador Rice announced that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has finalized new regulations that prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against those who benefit from services, including LGBT people.

Human Rights First has long advocated for these changes. Most recently we submitted a public comment on the draft regulations, calling for clarification in language to better align with human rights standards.


Two major court verdicts in cases against human rights defenders in Bahrain were were postponed in a move that Human Rights First is criticizing as further evidence of the kingdom’s targeting and harassment of human rights defenders. Opposition figure Khalil Al Halwachi and human rights defender Nabeel Rajab were both scheduled to receive verdicts in their trials on trumped-up political charges.

Al Halwachi, a founder of the opposition Amal group, was arrested in September 2014 and has been tried along with 16 others on charges of possessing a Kalashnikov rifle for terrorist purposes. He faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty. Rajab, a prominent critic of the Bahraini regime’s repression, was arrested in June and charged with a series of free speech-related offenses including “undermining the prestige of Bahrain” after publishing an opinion piece in The New York Times. He also faces up to 15 years in prison. Al Halwachi’s next hearing has been postponed to November 27, Rajab’s to December 15.

November will mark five years since the king of Bahrain promised to implement a series of human rights recommendations stemming from an international human rights inquiry. Human Rights First urges members of Congress to cosponsor bipartisan legislation—The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Accountability Act of 2015— that would ban transfers of certain weapons and small arms that could be used against protesters until Bahrain fully implements the human rights reforms to which it committed in 2011.

Quote of the Week

“Somewhere in the world right now, there is a young boy lying awake at night guarding a secret he has kept for as long as he can remember. Somewhere, there is a young woman who can love both men and women and has nobody to tell her that’s OK. Somewhere, in the United States, there is a man who has always felt like a stranger in his own body. So, to every person who might still be struggling with who they are, trying to reconcile who they love with the faith or traditions they love, know this: we see you. We hear you. We are here for you. And, on behalf of all those people—each of them a child of equal worth, a child of God—let us renew our efforts to battle discrimination in all its guises and embrace diversity in all its forms. Until every one of us is truly treated equally—no matter who we are, where we live, or whom we love.”

—“Promoting and Protecting LGBT Rights,” National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, American University, October 26, 2016.

We’re Reading

Newsweek covers Ambassador Susan Rice as she reviews progress for LGBT people at home and abroad under President Obama.

The Washington Blade reports that USAID instituted new regulations banning discrimination against LGBT people in contracts.

The Huffington Post writes that the United States is not discriminating against Syrian Christian refugees.

The Guardian shares the harrowing stories of Yazidi families under siege in Iraq, and the tales of those trying to save them.

Brian Dooley writes in The Washington Post that America needs to us its leverage with Bahrain to effect meaningful reform.

We’re Watching

As the Obama Administration winds down, National Security Advisor Susan Rice delivered an address to summarize the administration’s historic efforts to protect and expand the human rights and dignity of LGBTQ people around the world, as well as addressed some of the challenges that lie ahead for the next administration.

Around Town

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold an event entitled, “Global Media in Foreign Policy and Public Engagement.” The event will feature John Lansing, CEO and director, Broadcasting Board of Governors; Daniel Runde, William A. Schreyer Chair and director, Project on Prosperity and Development; Shannon Green, director and senior fellow, Human Rights Initiative; Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director and senior fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program. 10:00 AM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

The Woodrow Wilson Center (WWC) will hold a lecture entitled, “US-Russia Relations: Regional and Global Conflict.” The lecture will feature Yuri Shafranik, president of World Policy Resources and former Russian minister of energy. 3:00 PM, WWC, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion entitled “How should the next president counter violent extremism?” The discussion will feature Indira Lakshmanan, columnist for the Boston Globe and Politico magazine; Robert McKenzie, foreign policy fellow at Brookings; and Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at Brookings. 8:15 AM, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

The Global Alliance for Terminating Al-Qaeda/ISIS (GAFTA) will hold a discussion entitled, “United We Stand to Terminate ISIS.” The discussion will feature Former Iraq Minister of Communications Mohammed Allawi; Imam Hersham Al Huseini, co-founder of the Iraqi opposition movement against Saddam Hussein; and Ahmad Maki Kubba, founder and president of GAFTA. 9:00 AM, National Press Club, 14th and F Streets NW, Murrow Room, Washington, D.C.