Human Rights: January 2011 Archives

U.S. support of dictators in Arab countries has for decades highlighted the contrast between America's words and its deeds on democracy. Now that system is under stress across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, as people take to the streets to protest their governments.

Youth organized online and then on the streets in Egypt, as tens of thousands of protesters in recent days have challenged the autocratic government of Hosni Mubarak. Al Jazeera in Tunisia broadcast user-generated videos of police abuse found on Facebook, which then inspired others to film and distribute their own content, which fed the cycle.

It is inspiring to see oppressed people take their futures back from a corrupt elite. One day the oppressed in Egypt or Yemen may find they have more in common with the dispossessed in Arizona or Guatemala than their own venal rulers. If so, it'll probably happen on Facebook or something like it.

Former U.S.-supported Haitian dictator and thief "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned to Haiti this week after 25 years in exile, and President Obama resumed U.S. deportations to Haiti. The deportees will be detained upon arrival in life-threatening conditions in violation of U.S. human rights obligations.

One of the deportees was Lyglenson Lemorin, a lawful permanent resident and Haitian citizen who the federal government had charged with forming a terrorist plot. Lemorin was acquitted by a jury of all criminal charges, but ICE took a second bite at the apple and kept him jailed on immigration charges. Charles Kuck, past AILA president, represented Lemorin:


"Mr. Lemorin's removal is a high water mark in the injustice inherent in our broken immigration system," Charles H. Kuck, his attorney, said. "Deporting an innocent man should never be condoned."

But deporting innocent people is a bipartisan endeavor, one that President Obama has endorsed each day of his administration.

From Imagine2050 comes word of the Freedom from Fear Award, "a new national award that will honor ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees."

Fifteen individuals who have contributed to the immigrant rights movement will be chosen to receive the award and a $5,000 prize. Nominations close February 28. Here is the nomination form.

It's likely that many readers of this blog know a Dreamer whose local group could use $5,000, no strings attached, to build capacity and push for progressive immigration reform. Or a Dreamer who could, with that money, afford to take some time off from waiting tables or selling fast food to organize full time. Or to cover some of next semester's tuition. So let the nominations commence!

Jaya Ramji-Nogales discusses a pair of recent European court decisions applying provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the children of migrants. Most strikingly, a Dutch appellate court recently prevented the Dutch government from placing a failed asylum-seeker's children in foster care to facilitate their mother's deportation. According to Ramji-Nogales, "The court decided that the children's right to family unity overrode the state interest in immigration enforcement." Ramji-Nogales sums up:


For those of us beyond the jurisdiction of the ECHR, the decisions offer a tantalizing glimpse of the impact of a robust supranational human rights regime on domestic law and policy on the treatment of migrants. And though the holdings are modest, the use of human rights language with respect to undocumented immigrants and their children and the explicit prioritizing of their rights as individuals over the state's interest in enforcement (as compared to the federal preemption analyses used to assess the rights of immigrants in recent U.S. decisions) holds significant expressive power.

Julianne Hing, guest blogging at the Atlantic, struggles with the tension between the quest for the Perfect Immigrant and the reality of imperfect human beings. I was raised in a religious household, and sometimes scriptures still pop into my head. Reading Hing's post and some of the inevitable anti-immigrant comments it triggered, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" comes to mind.

And via Dee at Immigration Talk, reggaeton artists Wisin & Yandel created a music video to accompany their song "Estoy Enamorado" that captures the migrant struggle in a way too rarely seen in mainstream popular culture.

MLK march Broad Street

An interfaith, multiethnic group of Philadelphians rallied and marched today to protest the detention and deportation of Cambodian refugees who came to the U.S. as children escaping genocide in their homeland.

About 300 supporters rallied at the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City, Philadelphia, before marching to the ICE District Office several blocks away. Speakers throughout the event referenced the words and life of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was celebrated today.

Several Cambodian men now in their thirties were resettled as child refugees in some of Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods. Raised by traumatized parents, in families that had been decimated by the Khmer Rouge, some strayed in their youth and were convicted of crimes in their teens and early twenties. They served their time and reintegrated into their communities, raising families and starting businesses. Many had become permanent residents but not citizens, not understanding the distinction or the consequences of not naturalizing.

A pair of laws passed in 1996 with bipartisan support are now tearing apart Philadelphia's Cambodian community. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) expanded the types of crimes which could result in permanent exile. They removed the ability of immigration judges to consider discretionary factors, such as length of time in the U.S. or family ties, in individual cases. Now, years after these men served their sentences, ICE has locked them up and begun deporting them. They will never be able to live with their U.S. citizen wives and children in this country again. They will be banished from their adopted country and sent back to the place where their families were slaughtered.

Via America's Voice, Pedro Gutierrez speaks about his difficult childhood and his dream to join the Marines.

[Take action here to help stop Pedro's deportation.]

Unfortunately, until President Obama takes targeted administrative action to defer the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible youth in removal proceedings, ICE will continue to deport Dreamers like Pedro. And for every Dreamer that we see in the papers, there are hundreds who are deported quietly, under the radar.

Lewis and Zwerg.jpg[Image: Freedom Riders John Lewis (left) and Jim Zwerg; credit: Corbis]

PBS's American Experience is recruiting applicants for its 2011 Student Freedom Ride, "a journey retracing the historic civil rights bus rides that changed America." Forty college students around the country will be chosen to ride along with original Freedom Riders in May 2011 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the original rides. Those who are interested can apply online here. (Note: the application deadline is this Monday, January 17.)

The original Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated south in 1961 shortly after the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines. They were brutally beaten, their buses were firebombed, and many were arrested by local police in contravention of the Supreme Court's ruling.

The mainstream reaction was not favorable to the riders, who were viewed as unnecessarily provoking social division. Attorney General Robert Kennedy called for a "cooling off" period where activists would refrain from direct action, a request echoed by President Kennedy.

The violence that marks the minds and bodies of immigrant youth today is often hidden, coming in early morning raids that spirit young people away to unseen detention centers, camouflaged in official euphemisms like "security" and "removal." Still, the violence bubbles up in attacks on youth with names like Jose and Luis, fatal shootings of unarmed teenagers by the border patrol, and suicides by those who see no future for themselves.

The mainstream reaction to direct action is still often disapproval. Thoughtful challenges to the status quo provoke condemnation from the comfortable and the powerful, which confirms the effectiveness of targeted direct action.

I hope that young activists in the LGBT and immigrant rights movements consider applying to join the upcoming commemorative Freedom Ride. Dreamers risk long-term imprisonment and exile simply for showing themselves in public under the system of legalized injustice masquerading as immigration law. By selecting Dreamers to join the ride, PBS would ensure that it would be historic as well as historical. But first they need some applicants to choose--Dreamers, apply here!

The Obama administration announced last month its intention to resume deportations in mid-January of certain Haitian immigrants convicted of crimes in the U.S. Some of those likely to deported have lived in the U.S. for decades and will be permanently separated from U.S. citizen family members. Some had been permanent residents themselves. All will face indefinite imprisonment as criminal deportees by the Haitian government in jails where they may contract cholera or tuberculosis and where the government relies on family members to bring prisoners food and safe drinking water. Furthermore, prisoners in Haiti are at risk of being killed by their own prison guards. A week after the earthquake last year, prison guards in Les Cayes summarily executed prisoners and then tried to cover up the crime.

The U.S. government will be deporting people to their deaths in Haiti--some of these deportees will not survive under these harsh conditions.

Via Jaya Ramji-Nogales, I learned that a group of human rights advocates filed a petition (pdf) last week with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking that it prevent the United States from resuming deportations to Haiti. The Commission is an organ of the Organization of American States that can be petitioned to make recommendations to member states to resolve cases of violations of human rights. While the Commission and the associated Inter-American Court of Human Rights lack significant enforcement authority, litigation in these bodies can be a way to pressure member states to more faithfully observe human rights.

For a country like the U.S. which has historically used the rhetoric of human rights both to define its national identity and as a foreign policy tool, being publicly called out for violating human rights should be a source of embarrassment. Ramji-Nogales outlines the specific human rights violations alleged in the petition:

The petition alleges violations of five provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (sic). The deportation of these Haitians abrogates their right to life given the inhumane prison conditions they will face at home, particularly during the cholera epidemic, which has hit prisons particularly hard. Their removal also breaches their right to freedom from cruel, infamous, or unusual punishments due to the severe lack of medical care and social services in post-earthquake Haiti. The arbitrary detention these criminal deportees will face upon return violates their right to security of person. The petition also argues that the failure of the U.S. immigration system to offer a humanitarian defense to deportation, either by measuring the impact of removal on U.S. citizen family members or assessing the gravity of conditions in their home country violates the Haitians' right to family life and their right to due process and a fair trial.

Ramji-Nogales points out that U.S. petitioners to the Commission must reference the Declaration since the U.S. has refused to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, a legally binding treaty. The U.S. is joined by Cuba and a handful of other states in refusing to ratify the treaty, again showing the U.S. to be an outlier in its faltering dedication to the protection of human rights. As demonstrated by its resumption of deportations to Haiti, the U.S.'s commitment to observing human rights in practice does not match its rhetoric.

If you disagree with the Obama administration's decision to send these Haitians to their death, please sign this petition at change.org asking ICE to suspend these deportations.

As among the adherents to any major religion, there is a spectrum of views on migration among Mormons. This is one pro-migrant Mormon reading of kinship networks and migration. Here is an excerpt:

This is what a gentle Mormon radicalization looks like. This is how our fellow Mormons can become empathetically sensitized to the suffering of strangers: through the pedagogy of kinship, and the liberal urge to expand its lessons to others. It isn't the kind of radicalization that traditional revolutionaries pine for: it is no open insurrection against the government, no systematic critique of coercion or capital; not a declaration of insurgency or even any promise of a refusal to compromise in the future. Instead, it is a quiet, even a meek, refusal to accept the tyranny of the state, in one case, when it became just a little bit too much to stomach, and a decision to choose friendship and family instead.

In this post, Tristan discusses two types of kinship relations: vertical and horizontal. By vertical, he means traditional blood or legally-recognized relationships. Horizontal kinship refers to a universal human kinship which is a core precept of the Mormon faith and many others, that we are all brothers and sisters before God.

In my experience, the pressures, challenges, and opportunities faced by the contemporary immigrant rights movement has resulted in many members of the movement developing strong horizontal kinship relationships with one and other. Dreamers (and a few allies) are a tightknit bunch, much closer than many families, and in some cases, closer to each other than to their own families. Yet immigration law prioritizes vertical kinship relationships, which in turn has lead the immigrant rights movement to focus rhetoric and strategy on vertical kinship. I don't like seeing families broken up by the Obama administration, and vertical kinship relations provide value and stability to many people. But we could benefit from thinking more intentionally about the role of horizontal kinship relationships in immigrant rights messaging, policy goals, and organizing.

Three weeks ago, a group of Palestinian youth posted a manifesto on Facebook excoriating every internal and external political force at work in Gaza today. The manifesto begins:

Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!

The whole thing is worth reading, as well as this follow up by the Observer. I was struck by certain parallels between the situation of Gazan youth and undocumented youth in the U.S.

There are many differences, of course. War does not touch the borders of the U.S., while Gazan youth have faced invasion and occupation. Gazan youth are not at risk of exile simply because of the passport they hold, as Dreamers are. But rather than engage in the dread oppression olympics, I'd like to draw out certain similarities between both groups.

Both groups are physically trapped, unable to travel beyond the borders which confine them. Both have been jailed by their own governments. Both sit beyond many of the benefits and protections of the purported democracies in which they live. Both face depression, suicide, and other social maladies that come from living life without a future.

Both have started to raise their voices. From the manifesto:

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Human Rights category from January 2011.

Human Rights: December 2010 is the previous archive.

Human Rights: March 2011 is the next archive.

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