Commissioners: Margarette May Macaulay; Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva; and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño

Other Commission Staff: Paulo Abrão and María Claudia Pulido

Petitioners: International Human Rights Clinic – University of Washington, Northwest Detention Center Resistance

State: United States of America

In the current United States political climate, migrants have been increasingly targeted, detained, and even deported after speaking out against federal government abuses in the immigration system. Petitioners, a group of six human rights defenders, advocated for an end to the criminalization of immigrants for their human rights activism.

On December 5, 2018, Petitioners were scheduled to meet with the United States (U.S.) government to make recommendations on U.S. interactions with the Petitioners and the wider migrant community. However, due to the funeral of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, the U.S. did not attend. The U.S. did not reschedule the hearing and had disrespectfully communicated with the delegation. The Petitioners asked the Commission to issue precautionary measures to address this absence.

Petitioners made two main requests: that the U.S. pardon the six cases presented at the hearing and that the Commission write a letter to the U.S. government condemning its treatment of human rights defenders of migrants.

The first case presented by the petitioners involved an activist who had submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding the activist’s deportation. The petitioner addressed the difficulties in obtaining information regarding immigration proceedings, even for the person involved. They asked that the government either respond to the information requests promptly or disclose the information. They also demanded that ICE release records of surveillance, monitoring, and arrests of migrants, and that the government stop this activist’s deportation hearing.

Another Petitioner was the wife of a detainee in the Tacoma detention center. Her husband was refused surgery for a serious illness while detained. Two weeks after she publicly advocated for her husband, her husband was deported. She requested that the government conduct an investigation into the deportation and ensure access to care for detainees with serious illnesses.

The next Petitioner was the architect of an organization promoting migrants’ and workers’ rights in Vermont. Petitioner accused police and ICE of working together to criminalize being an immigrant. ICE even sent an undercover representative into the organization to monitor the Petitioner. The Petitioner requested better rights for immigrant workers and justice for immigrants.

The fourth Petitioner was a reproductive rights activist who had been living in the U.S. with a green card for thirty-three years. She was detained in Arizona, and her green card was revoked by ICE. Later, she was re-detained after a peaceful protest. She requested that the United states stop silencing dissent.

The fifth Petitioner was the ex-wife of a high-profile human rights defender who was deported. She explained that immigration laws in the U.S. run retroactively and that her husband was arrested for a thirty-year old drug conviction after becoming a vocal human rights activist. She requested that the U.S. explain the secrecy tactics used by ICE, that officials be held accountable when they exceed their power, and that there be child support for children when their parents are detained.

The sixth Petitioner was a human rights defender who takes migrants to check-ins to ensure they are not mistreated. He was violently arrested after being under ICE surveillance. He requests that the United States government put a system in place to handle unfair deportations.

The University of Washington closed by discussing the human rights violations implicated by the use of surveillance and secret police in the U.S., and they submitted a corresponding report to the Commission. The report points out the lack of responses to FOIA requests, including some blatantly false responses; that immigration records should be public information; and that funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and therefore, detention centers and ICE, should be dependent on compliance with FOIA requests.

Petitioners’ demands focused on first amendment and personal privacy issues, which cannot be addressed in immigration court. Petitioners requested that the U.S. follow its own rules and existing international human rights obligations under the American Convention, such as the right to humane treatment in Article 5 and the right to personal liberty in Article 7.

The Commissioners present included the Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, and the President of the IACHR, Margaret May Macaulay. In their response, the Commissioners acknowledged that it “boggles the mind” that the United States is acting this way in response to migrants. Further, given the number of people affected by ICE’s surveillance and deportation tactics, this situation could be categorized as a crime against humanity. Given its strong commitment to the family unit as the backbone of society, the U.S. should prioritize its own human rights obligations. The Commissioners asked specifically what pragmatic steps the Commission could take, and the Petitioners responded by advocating to dismantle ICE. They also stated that press releases from organizations like the UN or the IACHR are helpful because FOIA requests were immediately granted after the UN published a press release last year regarding the situation in the Tacoma detention center. More press releases and publicity around the issue is important and effective.

The Commission will continue to monitor the situation of human rights defenders in the U.S., including a visit to a detention center in late January 2019. The Commission unequivocally stated that they “must do what [they] can under [their] mandate” to improve the situation.