By Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA
In the very early hours of November 9, we voiced our grave concern about statements that President-elect Donald Trump made over the course of the election and his promises to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., build a wall on our country’s southern border, restrict access to healthcare and return to the practice of torture.
Already in the U.S. there have been reports of a spike in hate-driven actions and threats. This is not a coincidence – it is further proof that Trump’s irresponsible proposals must never become U.S. policy.
1. Closing the door on refugees
Trump has said “We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States. We don’t know who they are. They have no documentation and we don’t know what they’re planning.” This is patently false. Refugees are no different than anyone else who seeks to live free from fear. This especially applies to those fleeing armed conflict in regions like Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as those coming from the Americas (more on that in a bit). The United States has a longstanding bipartisan tradition of resettling refugees and treating refugees with dignity and full respect for rights. What’s more, these refugees are extensively vetted by multiple U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies before they arrive. No refugee comes to the United States with “no documentation” or without extensive vetting.
President Obama authorized 30 percent more refugees to resettle in 2017, from 85,000 in 2016 to 110,00 in the coming year. That number gets the U.S. closer to it’s fair share, but it falls dramatically short when you consider that 10 low-to-middle-income countries take in over half of the world’s refugees. Trump’s statements cast serious doubt on these promises being fulfilled. His anti-refugee stance has led to other forms of discrimination, including…
2. Ban on Muslims entering the US
Last year, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Following a public outcry, he has appeared to back away from this stance. Nevertheless, the statement points to the potential to enact policies that discriminate against Muslims once Trump takes office and has remained one of the most defining moments of his campaign.
This kind of scapegoating and fear-mongering recalls the worst chapters of U.S. history, including the imprisonment of people of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the second world war. A so-called “ban on Muslims” must never be imposed. It is a violation of human rights law and a violation of U.S. law. It is racist and it does not make us safer.
3. The wall
Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to build a wall along the southern border of the United States, with the stated aim of keeping out immigrants. Regardless of whether or not such a thing would be practical, the wall became a stand-in for the baseless idea that those from outside the United States, especially from Latin America, are to be feared and shunned.
Much like the proposed ban on Muslims, this rhetoric only served to inflame xenophobia and harden attitudes toward any people seeking entry to the United States for any reason. All immigrants, regardless of their legal status, have human rights like anyone else. And while of course the United States has the right to regulate immigration, it must do so in a humane and unbiased manner that respects human rights.
In particular, any kind of wall – either physical or metaphorical – that hinders the access of those seeking asylum is dangerous. Some of those coming across the southern border are fleeing deadly violence in countries like Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and have fled to keep themselves and their family safe. They need protection, not more obstacles.
4. Restrictions on reproductive freedom
Trump has said he would appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, and leave laws determining when – and if – a woman can get an abortion up to the states.
We have seen what happens when states attempt to limit this right. Though the laws may not ban abortion outright, states impose measures like unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics and long waiting periods when seeking an abortion. These regulations make it impossible for clinics to operate or for women – especially those who may have to skip work or care for children or family members – to find the necessary time to undergo the procedure.
All people have the right to make decisions about their own health, including whether and when to have children. Removing a federal right to abortion will inevitably lead to access being curtailed in some states, if not removed altogether. For the sake of women’s health and their basic human rights, this must not be allowed to happen.
A practice of the post-9/11 era, waterboarding was a method of torture used against those detained by the CIA to simulate drowning. Trump has said that not only does he “like” waterboarding, he doesn’t think it goes far enough.
Apparently, it bears repeating: Waterboarding is torture. And it is therefore a gross violation of human rights law. Waterboarding was banned by the military in the 2006 Army Field Manual. President Obama extended the ban to the CIA with an executive order in 2009.
Torture of any kind does not make anyone safer as information gathered under such circumstances is highly suspect. It undermines the standing of any country that seeks to influence others when it comes to human rights.
The United States’ history of using torture against prisoners is deeply shameful. It must remain in the past.
6. More guns on our streets
Trump is under the misguided idea that more guns in the public sphere will keep more people safe. “If we had guns in [San Bernadino] on the other side where the bullets went in the different direction, you wouldn’t have 14 or 15 people dead right now,” he said in January. But there is no assurance that more guns on the streets will lead to a deterrence of violent crime, and in fact may lead to just the opposite outcome. Gun violence is a human rights crisis in the United States, with Americans being 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other countries. Everyone has the right to live free from fear of violence. We need stronger federal gun laws in place. Not weaker ones as Trump suggests.
When President-elect Trump takes office, Amnesty International will be holding him accountable on human rights. His words have been chilling; we will do all we can to prevent them from becoming reality.