Starting Monday, the United States’ human rights record will be subject to international scrutiny by the U.N. Human Rights Council. It may just be the perfect catalyst for the Obama administration to make good on past and present wrongs that should never be associated with a liberal democracy predicated on respect for human rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is part of a regular examination of the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member countries and will be the second review of its kind for the U.S. since 2010. The review comes at a critical time when the U.S. human rights record has been criticized for falling short of meeting international human rights standards. From racially biased policing and excessive use of force by law enforcement to the expansion of migrant family detention and from the lack of accountability for the CIA torture program to the use of armed drones abroad, the U.S. has a lot to answer for.
Three Central American mothers who participated in hunger strikes at the Karnes prison camp in Texas have filed suit in a federal court against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña and staffers with the private prison company running the immigrant-family prison on behalf of dozens of women who went on hunger strike or acted in solidarity with the strikers in two separate protests in April. Delmy Cruz, Polyane Oliveira and Lilian Rosado argue in a complaint filed last week that they were unjustly retaliated against for protesting their incarceration and the reportedly deplorable conditions inside the Karnes County Residential Center, operated by the private prison company GEO Group.
Three immigrant women who say they were punished for joining a hunger strike in a Texas family detention center on Thursday sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO Group, the company that operates the facility. The lawsuit, filed in federal court against ICE Director Sarah Saldaña and personnel at the Karnes County Residential Center, seeks to prohibit ICE and GEO from putting women and their children in isolation as punishment for protesting, and from threatening to separate mothers from their children. “All we’re asking is that under the First Amendment, for ICE officials and GEO officials to stop retaliating against the women and allow them to peacefully protest,” said Ranjana Natarajan, an attorney with the University of Texas Civil Rights Clinic, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the women.
Stewart County Superior Court Judge James Sizemore dismissed all charges against human rights activists Anton Flores, Jason MsGaughey, Kevin Caron, Maureen Fitzsimmons and Rebecca Kanner. The five had been arrested on Saturday, November 22, 2014, during the November Vigil weekend in Georgia, as they crossed the line onto Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) property to call for the closure of Stewart Detention Center. Owned and operated by the Corrections Corportation of America (CCA), Stewart is one of the largest private, for-profit immigrant detention facility in the US, warehousing approximately 1,800 men. Through their peaceful action, the Stewart 5 were prepared to speak about the inhumane conditions that exist there, while at the same time raising public awareness about the racist immigration policies that allow places like Stewart to exist. To speak truth to power and to use the courtroom to put Stewart Detention Center on trial, our friends traveled long distances, from Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan; Washington, DC; Atlanta and LaGrange, Georgia.
About 40 women being held at the privately-run Karnes Family Detention Center in southern Texas launched a hunger strike this week to demand their release and the release of their families, vowing on Tuesday not to eat, work, or use the services at the facility until they are freed. Nearly 80 women being held at the center, many of whom are said to be asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, signed aletter stating that they have all been refused bond despite having established a credible fear of violence if they are sent back to Central America—a key factor in the U.S. government’s process for screening detained immigrants to allow them amnesty.
A march organized by sympathizers of a Europe-based anti-Islam, anti-immigration group called PEGIDA was cancelled on Saturday after hundreds of people showed up to protest against PEGIDA itself. The self-described leader of the relatively new PEGIDA Québec chapter, Jean-François Asgard, told Radio-Canada that “Islam needs to reform itself or leave the West.” Jaggi Singh of the No One Is Illegal activist group helped organize Saturday’s counter-protest. Hundreds of people toting signs denouncing racism and Islamophobia arrived 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start time of the PEGIDA march, set to take place in a largely Muslim community in Montreal called Little Maghreb.
After 2,000 inmates, mostly immigrants, took over a Texas prison in a riot over poor medical services, federal authorities have decided to relocate all the detainees from the now “uninhabitable” correctional facility. The riot at the Willacy County Correctional Center erupted on Friday afternoon, when prisoners refused to eat breakfast or report for work to protest medical services at the facility. The prison was practically run over by the inmates, who continue to hold down the fort. It still remains unclear what medical service issues had upset the inmates. Only around 800 to 900 inmates have refused to riot in a facility that holds some 2,900 people, most of whom are immigrants with criminal record.
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday that will temporarily prevent the Obama administration from moving forward with its executive actions on immigration while a lawsuit against the president works its way through the courts. The order, by Judge Andrew Hanen of the U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, was an early stumble for the administration in what will likely be a long legal battle over whether President Barack Obama overstepped his constitutional authority with the wide-reaching executive actions on immigration he announced last November. While the injunction does not pronounce Obama’s actions illegal, it prevents the administration from implementing them until the court rules on their constitutionality. The federal government is expected to appeal the ruling.
In an escalating dispute with President Barack Obama, Republican members of the United States House of Representatives have passed a bill which will cut any funding to the Department of Homeland Security for suspending the deportation of undocumented people. In December the President ordered the department, beginning this spring, to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants with US-born children (who are thus US citizens). A previous Obama order suspended the deportation of young people without documents, brought to the US as children. The Republican bill would rescind both orders. A new, Republican-dominated Congress took office in January. Congress must fund the department by 27 February or it could shut down.
A rally against racism and xenophobia on Saturday drew tens of thousands of people in the eastern German city of Dresden, which has become the center of anti-immigration protests organized by a new grassroots movement called PEGIDA. “We won’t permit that hate will divide us”, Dresden’s mayor Helma Orosz said in front of the 18th-century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). Around 35,000 people attended the rally that was jointly organized by the state government of Saxony and the city of Dresden, officials said. The movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) is holding weekly rallies in Dresden with a record number of 18,000 people attending last Monday. Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the anti-Muslim demonstrations, urging Germans to turn their backs on the movement and calling their organizers racists full of hatred. A recent survey, conducted before Wednesday’s deadly attack on a French satirical magazine, showed that an increasing majority of non-Muslim Germans feel threatened by Islam. The Paris attack has fueled fears that it could boost anti-immigration movements around Europe and inflame a culture war about the place of religion and ethnic identity in society.
The 13th Amendment explicitly prohibits slavery in all forms, except as criminal punishment, yet as many as 60,000 native-born Americans and both lawfully-admitted and undocumented immigrants are forced into bonded labor, sex trafficking, or forced, unpaid servitude. A broken immigration system and a failure to effectively respond to a call for reforms reflect on some hard truths about immigrant life in America — including the fact that slavery still exists in the United States and is as pervasive as it has ever been. The media and the public, however, generally tend to focus on sex trafficking, creating a situation in which the realities of labor trafficking are overlooked or ignored wholesale.
Key security agencies in the United States are expected to be exempted from new Justice Department rules announced by President Barack Obama’s administration to reduce racial profiling by federal law enforcement. The exemptions will permit Homeland Security agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to continue to use racial profiling, according to The Washington Post. With the militarization and expansion of the region, which the US government considers the “border,” this means, as journalist Todd Miller has highlighted, 197 million Americans or 66 percent of Americans, who live “within the jurisdiction of US Customs and Border Patrol,” will not be protected from racial profiling.
Reports are mounting of a living nightmare in Lumpkin, Georgia, at Stewart, a 1,750-bed detention facility housing immigrants facing potential deportation. According to multiple interviews with detained immigrants at Stewart, they are dealing withmaggots in food, improper medical care, sweltering temperatures, and in many cases no communication with staff due to no translators on site. The Corrections Corporation of America operates the facility for profit, adding fuel to an already roaring fire of opposition. While President Obama’s expanded deportation relief is a welcome move—the truth is that without addressing immigration detention, immigrants will continue to suffer horrifying conditions in detention centers.
The United Nations issued a report on torture by the United States and it should be quite an embarrassment to every American. Not only is the US violating international laws against torture in its military actions and treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, but the report also criticized the violation of US laws against torture. The report noted the widespread police brutality common in the United States and the lack of accountability for police who mistreat people. The report also criticized the mistreatment of prisoners held in solitary confinement as well as botched executions. The UN also concerns over the mistreatment of immigrants, expedited deportation without adequate due process and lack of adequate protection for asylum seekers. . The report is an indictment of government in the United States at every level. The UN criticized the United States for not cooperating with the investigation and providing full information.
In the wake of the mid-term elections earlier this month, it might have seemed that there wasn’t much hope to hold onto for progressives, what with climate deniers and tea party fundamentalists rising to some of the highest offices in the land. What we’ve seen since, though, has been a string of executive decisions that might be cautiously described as hopeful. Responding to his new-found willingness to take on the GOP, pundits have commented that Obama is attempting to carve out a progressive legacy in the latter half of his second term. This may be true, but this week’s announcements are also evidence of the work grassroots organizers have been doing to put pressure on the White House since well before the 2008 election. In other words, like other presidents, any progressive legacy Obama manages to build between now and 2016 will be a product of the movements that challenged him most.