About Sarnata Reynolds

Sarnata Reynolds is the former Advocacy and Policy Director for Refugee and Migrants' Rights at Amnesty International USA.
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Migrants in Mexico at Risk of Mass Kidnapping, Torture, Abuse

“To put this in perspective, more people are dying in Mexico than Afghanistan.” –General Barry McCaffrey

Pictures of migrants whose relatives have no news of since they left for the US © Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Despite a violent “war on drugs” that started five years ago, Mexicans are experiencing an increase in organized crime and drug-related violence along the Mexican border. Other criminals are not the only, perhaps even primary, target of violence.

As it has become more difficult to conduct drug trafficking due to efforts from the Mexican government, organized crime is targeting migrants from Southern Mexico and Central Americans who are attempting to reach the United States.

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Immigrant Rape Survivors: The Target of Contempt

© Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images

As unemployment continues to worry Americans, and immigrants remain an easy scapegoat of frustration, we have heard some pretty outrageous and contemptible comments against immigrants lately.

However, about a week ago state GOP Representative Ryan Fattman of Massachusetts surpassed our expectations in his shocking announcement that he is willing to let rapists roam the streets with impunity—that is, as long as the victim is an undocumented woman.

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On 60th Anniversary of Refugee Convention States Failing Refugees

”They stripped me naked and assaulted me. I begged them to kill me. Instead, they cut off my hands with machetes.”
- Amnesty International Interview, Sierra Leone, 1996

libya refugees

The Dhehiba camp in Tunisia © AI

After World War II and the systematic murder of millions of Jews, Roma, LGBT and many others, nations and individuals recognized the need for safe refuge from persecution and genocide.

After years of discussion and negotiation, the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the UN Refugee Convention) and later the 1967 Protocol emerged and provided a framework for protection. Most importantly, it established that no one could be returned to a country in which her/his life or freedom would be at risk.

It also placed obligations on signatories requiring they share responsibility when people flee across borders, and provide those seeking refuge with access to housing, health care and livelihood.

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Government Workers Get Wrist Slap for Illegally Exposing Information of 1300 People

Many people remember last summer when a list including the names of over 1300 supposedly undocumented immigrants was anonymously sent to addresses around Utah, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The list included not only names, but social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, up to 200 children’s names, and even pregnancy due dates.

Virtually all of the people identified on the list had Hispanic last names, and although the makers of the list alleged that all the individuals on it were undocumented and should be immediately deported, Utah Governor Gary Herbert subsequently reported that was not the case.

The release of this list raised fears among the 385,000 Latinos in Utah and millions of immigrants and their families across the country as a vivid reminder that discrimination and menace, whether directed at a U.S. citizen, lawful resident, or undocumented person, is alive and well.

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Immigration Detention: The Golden Goose for Private Prisons

An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

For many months now, states all over the U.S. and the federal government have taken steps to “get tough” on undocumented immigrants of color without taking into account the fact that workers are crossing the border because U.S. employers are desperate for their labor and no visas exist to permit their entry.

Instead of spending their time tackling this reality, which if actually addressed might create a basis for the nondiscriminatory enforcement of immigration laws, legislators are instead continuing to introduce bills, such as Rep. Lamar Smith’s H.R. 1932.

These bills throw more money at detention centers and enforcement operations and ups the ante by making their imprisonment mandatory and indefinite, regardless of Supreme Court precedent finding that it’s unconstitutional.

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Congress: Stop Locking Up Immigrants and Throwing Away the Key

Update 6/3: The Judiciary Committee did not get to HR2932 bill today, but it’s still scheduled to come up as early as 10 days from now.  Keep calling!

Texas Detention Facility

Texas Detention Facility, ©Amnesty International

As early as tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee may vote on H.R. 1932, a bill that will extend mandatory and indefinite detention of immigrants and strip them of their rights to due process.

Under the guise of a bill to protect U.S. citizens, the “Keep Our Communities Safe Act” is an attempt by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to make new populations of immigrants — including asylum seekers and long-time lawful permanent residents — subject to mandatory detention during removal proceedings. It also imposes punitive and indefinite detention if a person with a removal order is unable to secure a travel document — despite the fact that this is a political and diplomatic issue in which she or he has no control.

Congress needs to hear from you that you respect human rights, due process and the constitution, and you don’t want H.R. 1932 to become law. Pick up the phone now and urge members of the House Judiciary Committee to vote no on H.R. 1932.

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New Immigration Legislation Would Divide and Devastate Families

In 1996, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), a draconian piece of legislation that stripped immigration judges of the ability to determine whether a person should be allowed to remain, and permitted the indefinite detention of immigrants whose governments refused to issue travel documents.

The Supreme Court struck indefinite detention down as an affront to liberty in Zadvydas v. Davis stating, “Freedom from imprisonment – from government custody, detention, or other forms of physical restraint – lies at the heart of the liberty [the due process] clause protects.”

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Amnesty International & Gael García Bernal Release Immigration Films

Today Amnesty International released The Invisibles, a series of four short documentaries about the wretched journey thousands of Central Americans make traveling across Mexico in an attempt to reach the U.S. These migrants carry with them the hope of a new life in the U.S. and an escape from the grinding poverty and insecurity back home.

In its report with the same name, released in April,  Amnesty documented that thousands of these migrants confront beatings, abduction, rape and even murder along their journey to the U.S., their lives and deaths largely hidden from view.

While many of their stories will never be told, The Invisibles provides a small look into the reasons people leave their homes and the desperate measures they take in attempting to provide for their families.  Sometimes aware of the risks, mothers and fathers keep going because no other avenue for livelihood exists.

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Posted in USA

Prison Lobby's Ties to Arizona Anti-Immigration Law

The [undocumented] person, without right to residence and without the right to work, had of course constantly to transgress the law. He was liable to jail sentences without ever committing a crime … Since he was the anomaly for which the general law did not provide, it was better for him to become an anomaly for which it did provide, that of the criminal. Hannah Arendt, 1951

An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility for illegal immigrants on July 30, 2010 in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

For almost two decades, legislators and Presidents have treated immigration detention as some sort of “magic bullet” that will deter would be immigrants from crossing the U.S. border, instill terror in communities so that immigrants will voluntarily leave, and criminalize individuals through incarceration if they choose to fight deportation because they are U.S. citizens, refugees, lawful permanent residents, or breadwinners with long-time ties to their U.S. families, communities and workplaces.

Today NPR reported that Arizona’s recent draconian immigration law, SB1070, was written in collusion with the leadership of for-profit prisons and their lobbyists. The law requires Arizona police to stop and ask for papers proving legal residency if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” to believe the person is undocumented. If the person can’t immediately produce papers, she will be arrested and detained. Lawsuits arguing that the law was unconstitutional were almost immediately filed because it would be almost impossible to “identify” an undocumented person without resorting to racial profiling.

Criminalizing immigrants through detention has proven to be no magic bullet in managing migratory trends, but it has certainly proven to be a golden goose for these private prison operators. As the President of Geo Group,Wayne Calabrese, explained to its investors, according to NPR:

“I can only believe the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what’s happening. Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and that for me, at least I think, there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”

Depriving someone of their liberty through detention is a very coercive measure, which carries a strong stigma and severely impacts on individual rights. Criminalizing immigrants, not only by imposing criminal penalties for entering or remaining in the U.S without permission, but also by stigmatizing and criminalizing third parties who care for them, may have the effect of limiting or entirely denying protection and access to fundamental human rights, such as adequate housing or health care.

At the same time, documentation shows that “inflexible policies of exclusion, which are enforced through severe punishments of a penal nature and deportation for their breach, feed directly into the hands of traffickers,” who each year enslave thousands of women, men and children in the U.S., while the federal government adamantly declares its intention to protect trafficked persons.

For years, advocates have linked the massive growth in immigration detention with the exponential profits reaped by private prisons. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has picked up the enormous bill for a prison system that is widely viewed as cruel, inept and dysfunctional. It’s not good immigration policy, but it’s a terrific business strategy.