Amnesty International USA asked Tom Steyet 13 questions about some of the most pressing human rights issues of our time.
Here is his response exactly as provided:
How should the U.S. respond to the growing number of asylum-seekers, including families and children, seeking protection at the U.S. southern border?
Seeking asylum in the United States is legal. We need to address why people are fleeing their home countries — poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, and climate change. We need to increase our
investment in central America and reinvigorate our economic diplomacy to create a hemisphere of opportunity. The review process for families seeking asylum takes too long. The majority of asylum seekers pose little risk to public safety and can be released as they await their hearings. It is inhumane that people, particularly children, are being caged like animals. I would eliminate the use of family detention centers. Nobody deserves to be held in indefinite detention. Holding families indefinitely without due process is a violation of human rights. We must close the camps immediately or risk losing our humanity, and we shouldn’t be reducing the number of refugees we accept.
What can the U.S. do to address the causes of migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America?
There is a humanitarian crisis at the southern US border: the number of people coming into the US without papers who can’t be detained and deported — children, families, and asylum seekers — is unprecedented. The spike in unauthorized border crossings — while still below the levels of the early 2000s — is driven by record numbers of families coming to the US without papers: the raw number of children and families entering the US is higher than it’s ever been.
Violence is a problem, specifically gang violence in El Salvador and Honduras: organized criminal gangs frequently operate with impunity, because politicians and police can’t — or, in some cases, won’t — stop the bloodshed. Corruption has led to rot. In Guatemala, especially, poverty is a major driver of migration. This is particularly acute among indigenous populations, who suffer from higher rates of malnutrition and insufficient access to health care and education. Drought and other erratic, climate change-related weather are also factors.
We need to increase our investment in central America and reinvigorate our economic diplomacy to create a hemisphere of opportunity. Improving living standards –and especially improving security– have been known to decrease migration. My administration will commit to support for this region through multilevel responses, from strengthening justice systems to addressing threat multipliers from climate change.
What role should U.S. refugee admissions play in our response to the global refugee crisis?
We are witnessing one of the most violent and cruel human rights violations in modern American history. The Trump administration is intentionally and systematically ripping apart families and causing irreversible psychological and emotional damage to innocent children. America has welcomed refugees since our founding. Ours is a nation that leads with compassion — and offers opportunity to those willing to do the hard work to build a better America. It’s about time our practices for those seeking asylum and refuge matched our values.
What kinds of support could the U.S. provide to countries and regions experiencing record levels of internal displacement induced by causes as wide-ranging as climate change and warfare?
Our world is interconnected. The United Nations forecasts that as many as 1 billion people will be forced to move because of climate change. Such migration will strain countries’ resources and spur violent conflict. The best way the U.S. can address this situation is by not making the problem worse by working with the international community to aggressively address the climate crisis. As president, I will:
- Restore America to its position as a global leader and an indispensable party to global efforts to take on the climate crisis by redoubling our commitment to the Paris Agreement, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the Green Climate Fund, Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Development Programme, and other vital international agreements.
- Join the international Powering Past Coal Alliance, work to end global finance for coal-fired power plants, and strengthen and improve accountability procedures for enforcing human rights and environmental requirements for projects that receive funding through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international finance mechanisms.
- Lead a global plan to help prevent, address, and reduce climate-related disasters, including supporting pre-disaster resilience planning and investment, and helping protect the human rights of the growing number of people displaced by these disasters domestically and globally.
- Reduce the threat of global conflict and support other nations to achieve prosperity without fossil fuels by meeting and increasing our investment in international clean energy and sustainable development systems, eliminating our demand for fossil fuels, leading a worldwide transition to clean energy, and using the global purchasing power of the United States and international trade agreements to send a clear signal that the fossil fuel era is coming to an end and the clean energy age has begun.
What policies should the U.S. implement to reduce and prevent gun violence?
America’s children are suffering from the threat of mass killings and fear of active shooters. Members of our communities suffer gun violence in many forms: homicides, domestic violence, suicides, and police brutality. By and large the American people agree on how we should solve this problem. They want Washington to act, have pleaded with their representatives and have begged them to do something–anything. But the NRA, armed with money and lots of lobbyists, has corrupted our democracy, and instead, Washington politicians write the rules that put corporate profits over people.
I’m running for president to put power back in the hands of the people. I support background checks and extreme risk laws, ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. We can do so much more on the front end to prevent gun violence, focus on safety and know the signs if someone is in distress, which is why I also support a national licensing program. This will take leadership at the executive level, which is why I will take action at the highest office to coordinate all aspects of this epidemic and across all levels of government, to support proven local interventions and bolster resources at the federal level.
How should the U.S. address police killings of civilians, including the lack of transparency and accountability?
Young men in America are killed by the police at an alarming rate. This is more than a public health crisis, it is a crisis of moral leadership. Our young men, especially black and brown men, deserve so much more. In too many of our towns and cities the relationship between our police force and communities of color is toxic. Instead of making communities feel safer, police are seen as a threat. Innocent black and brown Americans are profiled, harassed, and searched. Too often they are shot. This broken relationship harms the communities who are unfairly targeted, and disadvantages the cops who need community involvement to report crimes so they can keep our cities and towns safe. The Federal government can provide crucial leadership, resources and technical assistance, but the solutions must come from the community. I would resurrect the DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing and invest in those local solutions. The Federal Government should provide funding for police training and to develop model use of force directives that can be used by state and local governments across the country.
How should the U.S. address human rights abuses suffered by religious and ethnic minorities at the hands of government and non-government actors worldwide?
The United States does best when we do right. Our country must provide global leadership and offer moral clarity when engaging in a complex world. We must shine a light on human rights abuses, reinvigorate our own commitment to justice, and leverage our economic, political, and diplomatic strength to ensure greater freedoms for all. The increase in religiously based hate crimes are on the rise, and the United States must stand for religious freedom.
How should the U.S. protect LGBTI rights at home and abroad?
LGBTI people throughout the world are bullied in schools, denied basic services, face discrimination in the workplace, and have more difficult time finding housing. It is unconscionable that members of the LGBTI community are also killed because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Even in the United States — a country that values equality — Americans can be fired from their job, evicted, or kicked out of a restaurant, solely because of who they love. I support The Equality Act, comprehensive legislation to protect LGBTI Americans from discrimination in housing, the workplace, and public accomidations. I believe that LGBTI families shouldn’t face discrimination from adoption or foster care services, and should be allowed to donate blood. To help protect LGBTI rights throughout the world, I would create a Special Envoy position with the State Department to make sure that protecting LGBTI rights are a priority within our foreign policy. I would also support preventing those who violate LGBTI rights from entering the country. I will review the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights and ensure that the commissioners are protectors of LGBTI rights.
How should the U.S. ensure that our foreign and domestic policies protect sexual and reproductive rights?
Universal health care must be a right — not a privilege — so everyone has the chance to live a healthy life. This must include women’s whole health, including access to abortion, family planning, and cradle to grave care specific to women’s needs.
It was the work of a generation to ensure that women are able to make their own decisions about their healthcare. Access to affordable, safe, and legal abortion has been fundamental to women’s strides in education and the workforce. It is a central part of women’s healthcare, affirms women’s independence and agency in the world, and my administration will fiercely protect that right for generations to come.
When it comes to foreign policy, we need to reverse the regressive acts that the current administration has done: lift the gag order, reinstate family planning funding, increase educational efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provide women and girls more opportunities.
How should the U.S. address the targeting, harassment, and killing of human rights defenders and journalists around the world?
The United States needs to engage diplomatically to ensure journalists’ rights are protected. Journalists play a vital role by keeping us informed of events and questioning government officials about how their decisions impact people’s lives. Many journalists put themselves in danger to report on wars or to cover human rights abuses. Our country can use our considerable influence and leverage it to help keep journalists safe. It is deeply concerning that Donald Trump has chosen to vilify reporters, failing to recognize the important contributions that a free press makes throughout the world, particularly in our democracy. I have been very concerned about how this administration handled the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and that it was unwilling to help New York Times reporter Declan Walsh. When the United States doesn’t speak up forcefully about protecting freedom of the press, it sends the wrong message to authoritarian regimes throughout the world who would routinely trample on these rights. I’ve also prioritized the need to stand up for the rights of environmental journalists in my International Plan for Climate Justice.
How should the U.S. respond to the increasing use of political repression by authoritarian regimes?
A strong foreign policy will require leadership — both domestically and abroad — to protect and promote American interests across the world. Authoritarian regimes and political repression must be addressed when they pose threats to American interests. In my administration, I will commit to global leadership on this issue by working with our partners and others who share our values in a multilateral manner. I will look at this issue from all levels, firmly embrace democratic values, and systematically push back against authoritarian competitors. We need to reinvigorate the State Department and respect the skill and expertise of our career diplomats and intelligence community to retain capacity for appropriate responses.
How can the U.S. ensure compliance with and accountability for its international human rights obligations in national security operations?
The use of Guantanamo Bay has badly damaged our country’s reputation. As president, I would implement procedures so that enemy combatants are not indefinitely held without receiving proper due process while we protect our national security.
What can the U.S. do to ensure U.S. arms are not used to perpetuate human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law?
Any new president is going to have to be repair the damage that Donald Trump has done to the United States foreign policy. He has made friends with our enemies, and enemies out of our friends. Our country is safer when more countries have free and fair elections; when countries respect the rights of women and minorities; when citizens are allowed to freely express themselves, question their leaders, and protest; and when they follow the rule of law. Greater democratic rules lead to greater economic growth and greater stability around the world. Our foreign policy should reflect our values. As the largest producer of arms in the world, we should be pursuing treaties to restrict small arms trade and gun trafficking. I would rejoin the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty.
How should the U.S. government hold businesses accountable for human rights abuses?
I would direct federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute any U.S. persons or corporations who violate human rights. I would also work with our friends and allies through existing international law and organizations to hold corporations accountable for these abuses. Additionally, I would work with our international partners to define environment crimes against humanity, and would make the prosecution of environmental crimes a priority domestically.