• Press Release

Accountability For Rights-Abusing Immigration Policies Must Not be Brushed Aside for Unity

February 2, 2021

Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images
Responding to executive actions addressing regional migration and border processing and creation of an interagency task force on family reunification, Bob Goodfellow, the Interim Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said:

On family reunification: “Reuniting the more than 5,400 children who were brutally separated from their parents is not an option: it is the only path forward after a policy that inflicted such irreparable harm to families. We cannot forget that decades of anti-human rights policies have contributed to a climate that inflicted cruelty on people seeking safety in this country. As Vice-President, Joe Biden had a role to play in years of policies that left thousands of families separated through deportations and detentions.

“These families must be reunited as quickly as possible, and deported parents who were separated from their children must be paroled into the United States. To redress the harms wrought by family separation, the U.S. government must provide a pathway to lawful status for separated families who suffered serious harm at the hands of its officials, as well as monetary compensation and access to medical, legal, mental health, and other social services as needed.

“We also cannot brush aside accountability for unity. While the harms wrought by family separation can never fully heal, a criminal investigation is a critical and necessary step to ensure that such grave human rights violations are never repeated. Any government officials who participated in, ordered, authorized, condoned, or acquiesced in torture or other crimes should be investigated. There must be an effective criminal investigation of all government officials, personnel, and contractors who are responsible for this shameful period of our history — no matter their current or former level of office.”

On regional migration and border processing: “The United States must not go back to the same business as usual as it existed before the Trump administration. Working with partners in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico will be a vital part of reestablishing multilateral approaches to shared challenges, but human rights abuses perpetrated by these governments in the name of “managing migration” cannot be condoned. A multilateral approach must be a rights-respecting approach or governments will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes and commit the same abuses, placing the lives and futures of millions at stake – especially considering the role United States policies have played in compelling people to leave their homes in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Any financial assistance provided to neighbors to address the root causes of migration must be accompanied by conditions tied to respecting human rights: it should not fund the furtherance of human rights abuses or fall into the hands of corrupt actors. Furthermore, “smart” technologies at the border must similarly respect the right of privacy: the weaponization of technology at the border risks perpetuating rights abuses rather than halting them.”

Background and context

Amnesty International’s report ‘You Don’t Have Any Rights Here’: Illegal Pushbacks, Arbitrary Detention and Ill-treatment of Asylum-seekers in the United States revealed the brutal toll of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine and dismantle the United States’ asylum system in gross violation of United States and international law. The cruel policies and practices documented included: mass illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers at the United States–Mexico border; thousands of unlawful family separations; and increasingly arbitrary and indefinite detentions of asylum-seekers, frequently without parole.

The briefing “Overlooked, Under-Protected: Mexico’s Deadly Refoulement of Central Americans Seeking Asylum”analyzed the results of a survey carried out by Amnesty International, with 500 responses from migrants and people seeking asylum traveling through Mexico. The information presented demonstrated that the Mexican government is routinely failing in its obligations under international law to protect those who are in need of international protection, as well as repeatedly violating the non-refoulement principle. Surveys were carried out in waiting lines for government offices, lawyers and UN offices, as well as in migrant shelters, and the southern states of Chiapas, Tabasco and the northern state of Coahuila. Surveys were also carried out in a reception center for deportees in Guatemala.

In “No Safe Place: LGBTI Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans Seeking Asylum in Mexico”, Amnesty has documented how, given the lack of options for protecting their lives and physical integrity in their own countries, gay men and trans women chose to flee and seek protection in other countries such as Mexico or the United States. For many of them, however, this path is paved with new acts of violence and discrimination at the hands of gangs and the authorities in the transit and/or destination countries. When detained, they also find themselves in at-risk situations and may even be deported back to their countries of origin.

The Amnesty International report “Home Sweet Home? Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador’s role in a deepening refugee crisis” explored how the three countries are failing to protect people from violence, and also failing to set up a comprehensive protection plan for deportees forced by the governments of countries such as Mexico and the United States to return to life-threatening situations.

All families seeking safety should be safe, free and together. People can learn more about Amnesty International USA’s work on the issue here.

People can learn about Amnesty International USA’s priorities for the Biden administration here.