Using Border Agents as Translators Has Tragic Consequences

Border Patrol Agent

© Getty Images

Guest post by Erica Schommer, border immigration attorney

This May, in a police stop gone wrong, Benjamin Roldan Salinas and a companion were detained by the U.S. Forest Service for picking salal (a plant used in floral arrangements), without a license.

Because Salinas did not speak English, the Forest Service called in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to translate. Events escalated rapidly when Salinas, in fear of being apprehended by immigration agents, ran from the agents to a nearby river.

After days of searching, Salinas’ body was found near the river on June 4. His companion remained with agents, but was subsequently arrested by the CBP for a suspected immigration violation and placed in removal proceedings.

Salinas’ fear was due to a phenomenon in which the CBP is called on by outside law enforcement agencies under the guise of translator. Once on the scene, however, the CBP does not limit itself to translating and will question a person about potential immigration violations if it suspects the person of an infraction. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Migrants’ Rights: A Visual and Verbal Journey

By Amalia Greenberg Delgado, Immigrants’ Rights Coordinator

“You don’t imagine that your dreams can end in a moment on this journey… he [the soldier] pulled me by the hand and told me to walk further into the bushes. He took me far away from the train tracks until we were completely alone. He told me to take my clothes off so that he could see if I was carrying drugs. He said that if I did what he said he would let me go.”
Margarita (not her real name), a 27-year-old Salvadoran migrant, describing how she was sexually abused by a soldier, Amnesty International interview, June 2009.

Every year, tens of thousands of women, men and children travel without legal permission through Mexico to reach the United States. They flee poverty, war, environmental disasters and are enticed by a promise of freedom and a chance to join their families in the North. Some disappear on the journey without trace, kidnapped and killed, robbed and assaulted or sometimes falling or thrown off speeding trains. Some suffer arbitrary detention and extortion by public officials along the way. The litany of abuses and repeated attempts to reach the United States are testaments to the determination migrants have to build a better life.

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) this past Saturday, March 19, 2011, Amnesty International USA heard from leaders in the movement about increased human rights abuses of migrants on both sides of the United States’ southern border. Father Solalinde, a human rights defender and director of a migrants’ shelter in Oaxaca, spoke of the “globalization of love” and the absolute right to dignity that must be afforded to all human beings. His soft spoken words did not lessen the blows of his words as he reminded us of the struggles that migrants face.

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President Obama Extends TPS to Haitians

This afternoon Janet Napolitano, Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, announced that the administration will extend temporary protected status to Haitians in the US. Providing work authorization through a TPS designation empowers Haitians to share responsibility for the relief and rebuilding of their own country, and it enables the US to meet its human rights obligations under international law and standards. AIUSA commends the administration for its generous and prompt humanitarian response to the disaster that is unfolding in Haiti. Haitians fleeing persecution or other serious human rights violations have a right to seek protection in the US. Accordingly, we hope that in the coming days the administration will also suspend the policy on interdiction during this time of crisis.

Cover Up of Detention Center Deaths Exposed

This past weekend, the New York Times reported on the widespread and coordinated cover up of deaths in immigration detention. One such case, highlighted in our 2009 report on immigration detention, Jailed Without Justice, involved Boubacar Bah, a 52-year-old tailor from Guinea who had lived in the US for ten years when he was detained. Newly available video shows him begging for help while handcuffed on the floor in solitary confinement. After four months in a coma, he died in detention.

The deliberate and coordinated dehumanization of the 107 people known to have died in immigration detention is shocking and shameful. For the last seven years Amnesty has monitored, investigated and advocated on the mistreatment of immigrants in detention, some of the core problems seemed to stem from incompetence and mismanagement. But it seems clear now that officials involved in immigration detention were regrettably quite competent at re-framing deaths due to neglect, and that detention facilities were in fact well coordinated in the cover up of ill-treatment and disregard.

Independent oversight and accountability is crucial to reforming a cruel detention system that is overused, under-scrutinized and where impunity is the rule and transparency the rare exception. While the US government has publicly stated its intent to reform the detention system, it has specifically rejected calls for enforceable rules as to the treatment of people in detention. According to the government, they are not necessary. The government is wrong. In Jailed Without Justice, Amnesty called for the adoption of enforceable human rights standards in all detention facilities coupled with independent oversight and accountability for transgressions. Until this occurs, ICE will have the ability to arbitrarily deprive people of their liberty, abuse them without repercussion, and label them as criminals as some sort of justification for the mistreatment they are forced to endure in silence.

Clinton Arrives in South Africa

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in South Africa today for meetings with President Zuma and Foreign Minister Mashabane. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to answer the phone when Hills called to ask which issues she should be sure to broach in those discussions. Don’t laugh; it could totally happen in some alternate universe. But if she had asked my advice, this is what I would have said:

Secretary Clinton must encourage South Africa to meet the promises enshrined in its Constitution and acceptance of international human rights treaties by taking a stronger stand as a leader in promoting human rights in Africa. Recent violent protests over inadequate housing and social services in several South African provinces highlight the deep tension that remains regarding the promises made by the government following apartheid and the ability of the government to honor those commitments.

As host of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa is in a unique position to demonstrate its commitment to human rights on a global stage. As a way to exemplify this commitment, I would love to see Hills push South Africa to ratify the International Convenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but that would probably be a little awkward since the US hasn’t ratified it either.

South Africa also must do more to protect its women and girls. A recent survey revealing one in four men admits to committing a rape showcases the epidemic nature of the crisis. Further, Amnesty International has reported that women in rural areas are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, domestic and sexual violence, lack of access to health care and inadequate police protection. Secretary Clinton should raise these issues with the South African government and promote the need to protect women from all forms of violence and discrimination.

South Africa also must do more to protect those who cross its borders. Immigrants were the focus during xenophobic attacks that occurred last year on a large scale in South Africa and continue on a lesser scale today, as people already displaced from their homelands are forced into camps with minimal protections. With the special visa for Zimbabwean’s delayed in Parliament and reports of serious violence occurring near the Musina border crossing, South Africa must make greater efforts to ensure the safety and humane treatment of all persons residing there.

Finally, South Africa’s role as regional powerhouse means not only honoring its commitments to its own citizens, but also taking the lead as a regional authority in urging its neighbors to honor democratic processes and human rights within their borders. As lead negotiator and guarantor, along with the other Southern African Development Community (SADC) member States, of the Zimbabwe power sharing agreement, South Africa has a responsibility to ensure that all processes in the agreement are honored, including a new constitution, an end to impunity and respect for political parties and human rights defenders to operate without harassment by state security forces.