Haiti is devastated.
According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in thousands of deaths, more injuries, and likely countless people missing and displaced. Amnesty International researchers are monitoring the situation. The US government quickly reacted on Wednesday by pledging humanitarian, technical and financial support to the people of Haiti, and this is to be welcomed. The Department of Homeland Security stated that it is temporarily halting all deportations to Haiti, which will provide some relief to the Haitians already here, and their family and friends in Haiti who will likely rely on them for financial support.
At the same time, however, there has been no move to provide protection or secure status to Haitians in the US, or suspend specific immigration policies that discriminate against Haitian nationals. Haitians fleeing persecution or other serious human rights violations have the right to seek protection in the US, but in flagrant violation of international law, the US government stops them on the high seas and returns them to Haiti (interdiction).
President Obama Should Extend Temporary Protected Status to All Haitians in the United States
Temporary protected status (TPS) is a form of protection provided to foreign nationals whose countries have experienced environmental disasters or armed conflicts posing a serious threat to the personal safety of foreign nationals if returned. By definition it is temporary in nature and provides protection and work authorization.
TPS also provides a critical lifeline to the family and friends of people remaining in the home country because TPS beneficiaries can work legally and provide financial support overseas. The US government has made very clear that Haiti is in critical need of financial support. Ensuring that Haitians in the US have the opportunity to work complies with US human rights obligations under international law and standards, and by enabling them to support their families in Haiti, helps indirectly to provide financial assistance to that country.
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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.
The White House has publicly committed to reforming the current immigration system, which permits arbitrary detention and deportation in violation of human rights. On December 15, 2009, Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL-D) introduced the first broad legislation of this session to address a broken immigration system that results in egregious and pervasive human rights violations against immigrants and asylum seekers.
In the Senate, Senators Schumer and Graham are expected to introduce a comprehensive bill addressing immigration reform in early 2010. No doubt, ensuring that the human rights of immigrants in detention and deportation are respected and protected will be a battle, and Rep. Gutierrez has provided a blueprint for the protection of rights in detention and deportation.
We need you to tell Senators Schumer and Graham that restoring the due process rights of immigrants in detention and deportation is a key component to successful immigration reform, and must be part of any Senate bill.
Every day across the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. War, persecution, environmental disaster and poverty are just some of the reasons why a person might feel that they have to leave their family, community or country.
Refugees leave their country because they have no other choice and fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Refugees also flee their country when their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses.
Right now, as you read this, millions of people around the world have fled and are waiting to begin their lives again. Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa wonder if today is the day their food rations will run out. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand worry that today is the day they will succumb to illness without medical attention. A quarter of a million Colombian refugees in Ecuador fear that today is the day they will be sent back to face the violence in their home country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main agency mandated to provide protection and humanitarian services to those fleeing persecution, estimates there are almost 10 million refugees around the world. They have fled political and religious persecution, been caught up in ethnic conflict, and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. There are many reasons that people become refugees, but only a few ways to obtain the protection they so desperately need. International agencies and local organizations do their best to assist everyone, but caring for the world’s most vulnerable is a daunting task.
Amnesty International USA advocates for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States, and for the humane and dignified treatment of refugees and migrants worldwide. As violations of human rights continue and the number of fleeing people rises, we must all raise our voices to protect the persecuted.