Human Rights Organization Reveals Barriers Faced by Immigrant Victims of Crime, Identifies Indigenous and Latino Communities and People of Color Among Those Targeted in Discriminatory Practices
Contact: Sharon Singh, 202-509-8194, [email protected]
(Washington, D.C.) —Communities living along the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly Latinos, individuals perceived to be of Latino origin and Indigenous communities, are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) reports today.
The organization's new report, In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest (English) or (Spanish), highlights systemic failures of federal, state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws on the basis of non-discrimination.
Among the many findings, the report illustrates that the United States is failing in its obligations to respect immigrants' right to life, ensure access to justice for immigrant survivors of crime, particularly women and children, and recognize the border crossing rights of indigenous communities.
According to the U.S. government, there are approximately 14,500-17,500 people trafficked into the United States each year for labor or sexual exploitation. However, barriers caused by breakdowns in the system that identify immigrant survivors of trafficking leave many without any relief from immigration detention and deportation. Of the 5,000 T-visas available annually to survivors of human trafficking, statistics show that only six percent are actually utilized.
"The culture around immigration in the United States has created a perfect storm — survivors of trafficking and other crimes like domestic violence are increasingly seen as criminals rather than as victims,” said Justin Mazzola, Amnesty International researcher and lead author of the report. “At the same time, fewer people are willing to report such crimes, as they feel it may expose them to immigration enforcement. In addition, many feel that police will be unable or unwilling to help.”
Carolina, a Honduran native who was brought to the United States after being repeatedly sold for sex, beaten and drugged, was held for six months in detention in Pearsall, Texas, after immigration agents found her in the trunk of a car crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. While detained, Carolina was denied certification as a trafficking victim because she had originally wanted to come to the United States voluntarily before she was sold into sexual slavery and trafficked into the country.
It was only after a review of her case in February 2011, more than two years after she was discovered in the car trunk, that Carolina's trafficking victim visa was approved, allowing her to remain in the United States and become eligible for mental health and support services. "Now, I can finally begin to heal," Carolina said following her release from detention.
Immigration control measures increasingly jeopardize individuals' right to life when crossing the border. U.S. policies intentionally reroute migrants from traditional entry points to the most hostile terrain in the Southwest United States, including crossings over vast deserts, rivers and high mountains in searing heat. From 1998 to 2008, as many as 5,287 migrants died while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The report finds that indigenous communities are left particularly vulnerable to discrimination and other abuses stemming from immigration enforcement. Indigenous peoples, whose traditional territories and cultural communities span the U.S.-Mexico border and necessitate frequent crossings, are often intimidated and harassed by border officials for speaking little Spanish or English and holding only tribal identification documents.
Furthermore, federal immigration programs that engage state and local police in enforcing immigration laws place Latino communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color along the border at risk of discriminatory profiling. Because monitoring and oversight of these immigration programs is vastly inadequate, those responsible for human rights abuses are rarely held to account. As a result, such practices, including targeting individuals based on their perceived ethnicity, have become commonplace and entrenched, fostering a culture of impunity that perpetuates discriminatory profiling. The recent proliferation of state laws that target immigrants place them at further risk of discrimination and impedes their right to access education and essential health care services.
Texas-born actress Amber Heard, who has participated in several research excursions to the Southwest border with Amnesty International, said: "I was moved to tears upon hearing the stories about the ill-treatment of immigrants. These are individuals whose only objective is to provide for their families. If our nation’s goal is to promote and protect human rights around the world, then we need to start implementing that notion at home and we must do better.”
Among its recommendations, Amnesty International urges the U.S. government:
- to suspend all immigration enforcement programs pending a review by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General to determine whether the programs can be implemented in a non-discriminatory way
- to pass legislation that guarantees equitable access to justice and protection for survivors of crime
- to respect and facilitate the use of indigenous identity papers and immigration documents for travel across borders
- and to ensure, as a matter of priority, that its border policies and practices do not have the direct or indirect effect of leading to the deaths of migrants
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.