Committee against Torture Weighs in on U.S. Immigration Policy

U.S. Presentation Before the Committee Against Torture (US Mission Photo / Eric Bridiers)

U.S. Presentation Before the Committee Against Torture (U.S. Mission Photo / Eric Bridiers)

 

By  Kelleen Corrigan and Lia Lindsey

Last month the Committee against Torture (“Committee”) reviewed the United States’ compliance with its obligations under the Convention against Torture (“Convention”).  Over the course of three days in Geneva, the Committee consulted with key stakeholders—including affected individuals, civil society representatives, and the U.S. government delegation—to gain insight into the United States’ adherence to its responsibilities under the Convention.  The Committee raised many issues of concern, including police brutality, applicability of the Convention to individuals at Guantanamo Bay and other detention sites, and prison conditions, as well as asylum procedures and the detention of immigrants.

As co-chairs of the Immigration Detention and Deportation Working Group with the U.S. Human Rights Network Convention against Torture Taskforce, we attended the sessions in Geneva to ensure the Committee was fully briefed on the intersection of Convention obligations and treatment of immigrants in the United States.  Prior to the review, our working group coordinated a joint shadow report.  The report, submitted to the Committee and the U.S. government, provided significant background information and case examples, as well as recommendations and questions for the Committee to pose to the U.S. delegates.

Our working group also delivered an oral statement to the Committee highlighting the most distressing abuses, specifically the increased reliance on expedited removal procedures which may result in refoulement and other rights violations; the lack of codified and binding regulations for detention facilities; serious conditions issues and abuse in detention; as well as concerns about the general overuse of detention and the lack of utilization of community-based alternatives.  We also provided additional information and examples to members of the Committee during subsequent informal gatherings.

The Concluding Observations released on November 28, two weeks after the review, reflect the Committee’s awareness and concerns about the serious shortcomings of the United States in regards to its treatment of non-citizens.  In the Concluding Observations, the Committee generally categorized its main concerns about issues affecting non-citizens into two areas:  (1) the use of expedited removal procedures and other summary processes; and (2) immigration detention.

Regarding expedited processes, the members addressed apprehension about the United States’ treatment of non-citizens along the southern U.S. border.  The Committee noted increasing reports that Customs and Border Protection personnel are not identifying or referring immigrants for asylum screening interviews as required.

As a result of inadequate screening and expedited removal processes, some asylum seekers are returned to their country of origin without access to asylum procedures.  Thus, the Committee took a critical eye to the potential of non-refoulment and made recommendations in line with assuring international protection.  These included that the United States should “review the use of expedited removals,” “guarantee access to attorneys,” and to increase its risk assessment particularly regarding individuals from Mexico and northern Central America. Continue reading

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