How Did the State of the Union Stack Up On Human Rights?

Obama Travels To Connecticut To Advocate Passing Of Stricter Gun Laws

During tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama touched on issues of national security, criminal justice reform, immigration policy and women’s health, all of which involve human rights.

It is important to promote awareness of these issues as part of the US national conversation. But as always, the proof is in the pudding. So how do President Obama’s words stack up against actions?

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#DearObama: Prioritize Fair and Humane Immigration Reform in Your State of the Union

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

This blog is part of a series on human rights in the State of the Union address. The United States has an obligation to pursue policies that ensure respect for human rights at home and around the world. Follow along and join the conversation using #SOTUrights.

Mr. President,

if you really care about immigrants’ rights, in your State of the Union, can you explain why:

  • Since 2001, immigration detention in the United States has more than doubled from just over 200,000 annually under President Bush to 478,000 in 2012, an all-time high?[i]
  • Your administration has deported an average of 390,000 immigrants a year since 2009, with a record 409,000 deportations in 2012?[ii]
  • Your administration deported its 2 millionth immigrant in 2014, while hundreds of thousands of families have been separated during the past six years?

This is a pace of deportation and exposure to abuse that cannot continue.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Native Women’s Rights Are in Danger: Tell Congress to Pass a Tribal-Inclusive VAWA that Provides Justice for All Women!

VAWA rally in washington dcThe following post is by Sarah Deer,  an Assistant Professor at William Mitchell College of Law and a member of Amnesty International USA’s Native American and Alaska Native Advisory Council.

As citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, I am extremely concerned that with only three weeks left until the end of the year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has yet to be reauthorized. There are three new critical protections in the Senate-passed version of the bill that seek to protect particularly vulnerable communities – LGBT people, immigrant women, and Native American and Alaska Native women in particular – but Native American women are in danger of being left out.

Unfortunately, as efforts to push VAWA to the finish line have resumed, some House Members are attempting to remove protections for Native women from VAWA. This is unacceptable: all women deserve equal rights and protection under the law.

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Arizona’s Immigration Law: 3 Sections Down, 1 to Go

Immigrant rights activists participate in the annual May Day rally. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck/Getty Images

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) delivered its ruling on four sections of SB 1070, more than two years after Arizona’s discriminatory immigration bill was signed into law.

In a 5-3 decision, the Court struck down provisions criminalizing the acts of failing to carry immigration papers, seeking or performing work as an undocumented migrant, and provisions allowing police to arrest without warrant anyone suspected of committing a crime that could lead to deportation.

The fact that these provisions will not be able to take effect is a victory for immigrants’ rights activists and those fighting the draconian immigration laws that have been popping up in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, the good news is somewhat overshadowed by the fact that for Latinos and visible migrant communities in Arizona, the chances of being racially profiled have been both increased and de facto legitimized by this decision. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Obama to DREAMers: You Can Stay…For Now

Immigration Activists Demonstrate In Los Angeles

Immigrant students demonstrate for an end to deportations on June 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” President Obama stated today, in confirming that an order had been issued permitting some 800,000 DREAMers to remain in the country without fear of deportation and enabling them to seek employment. The President went on:

“Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”

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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

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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Anti-Immigrant Bill Coming Down To The Wire

By Lisa Adler, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA

This week – we need thousands of people to pressure Governor Nathan Deal to stop the anti-immigrant bill, HB 87.

The Georgia State Legislature will reconvene on Monday, April 11 for its final 3 days.  During this time, HB 87 – the anti-immigrant Arizona copycat – will be voted on.  It is urgent that we pressure Governor Nathan Deal NOW to kill this bill, even before it reaches his desk.

States around the country—including Georgia’s fellow Southern state Mississippi – are voting down copycat bills.  Even Arizona voted down several anti-immigrant bills.  Why?  Because such bills are morally and economically bankrupt, and violate fundamental principles of human rights and dignity.

At the March 24th more than 5,000 people—students, elders, mothers, fathers, immigrants and citizens—rallied at the state capitol to oppose anti-immigrant legislation. Civil rights icon Representative John Lewis passionately reminded the crowd that state lawmakers must not turn back the clock on progress.  Let’s spread this message to Governor Deal and beyond – No to HB 87, No to Hate, Yes to Immigrant Rights!

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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