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

Regularizing & Decriminalizing the Movement of People, Part II

We are not going to stop sending people, and you guys are not going to be able to stop them from getting in.

These are the words of Lt. Col. Reyes Garcia, a Honduran military policy leading an operation to break up an extortion ring used for trafficking women and contraband cigarettes.

When I last addressed this issue, I was prompted to do so in response to the news report of the hundreds of people from Ghana, Eritrea, and Somalia who drowned off the coast of Italy attempting to enter the European Union in search of work and a better life. I wrote then that these tragedies happen because, as the barriers to the movement of goods and services have fallen, those facing people who merely seek the opportunity for a decent life continue to go up.

This time, the focus is on the United States, where the latest humanitarian crisis involves tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them children, who have overwhelmed US border facilities. They flee violence and despair in search of a “good job” – sewing underwear in a sweatshop for a weekly wage of $47.00.

Here is the irony – similar jobs used to proliferate in Honduras, El Salvador and the other Central American countries at the heart of this story. The ease with which capital can move in search of even higher returns has relocated many of the factories to countries in Asia, such as Bangladesh, where they find cheaper labor and fewer regulations. The people left behind are people like Waldina Lizeth Amaya, a 37-year old mother of four from Honduras who worked for several years in a factor making bras and panties. Now, after trying unsuccessfully to find work in Honduras, she is one of the tens of thousands of persons determined to make it to the U.S. in search of the jobs there.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) writes that:

When properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants, their communities, the countries of origin and destination, and for employers.

In 2011, there were 105 million people working in a country in which they were not born, generating income of US$440 billion, of which US$350 billion was sent back to their home countries. International aid agencies now treat these remittances as an important source of “foreign earnings” for the receiving countries.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Yet, the rules to manage and legitimize the economic migration of persons remain sketchy, at best. The World Trade Organization (WTO) rules recognize the movement of people as service providers as a delivery mode for trade in services. However, existing rules focus on movement of professional and highly-skilled workers. The low-skilled or unlicensed service provider continues to be marginalized, despite the continued high and ongoing demand for their services, particularly in developed economies.

In the face of this Central American influx, the United States does not have to wait for new WTO rules – it can unilaterally address the issue through a rational approach to immigration, which also takes into account the reality of labor and economic migration – persons who want to temporarily migrate just to work. The tragedy is that neither the WTO nor the US seem inclined to do so.