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Human Rights Watch: US Immigration System is Damaging to Human Rights

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A top story in the news today is Justin Bieber, and whether his latest drunk driving antics could get him deported.  As America’s Voice and others have pointed out, the Canadian pop star is a privileged case — hundreds of thousands of people every year are deported for much, much less than his offenses.  Parents have been deported and children have been left behind for nothing more than broken taillights.  The US deportation system is nothing to joke about — as Human Rights Watch notes in its latest report on the state of human rights around the world.

Every year, HRW releases a report calling attention to injustices in Syria, the Central African Republic, and other countries suffering from repressive regimes or civil wars or other conflicts.  This year, the group lifted up an injustice to human rights that hits much closer to home: the American immigration system, its practice of keeping undocumented immigrants in the shadows, and its ugly record of deporting people away from their loved ones — separating mothers and fathers from their children.

In the Washington Post today, Pamela Constable interviewed Antonio Ginatta, the U.S. Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, about immigration reform and deportations.  The conversation is a great illustration of why we need immigration reform — because the current system is one that massively over-punishes those who come here seeking a better life, by ripping them away from their homes and children.  Read part of the interview below, or at the Washington Post:

WP: Most Americans might think of human rights as an issue in repressive foreign countries, not so much in the U.S. Can you explain the link your organization sees between human rights and American immigration reform?

Ginatta: We see the intersect between human rights and immigration policy to be varied and vast. The status quo on immigration breeds human rights violation in so many circles. First we highlight the importance of family unity. In the world of human rights, family is seen as the natural and fundamental group that deserves protection, but [U.S.] immigration policy doesn’t focus on family unity in the same respect.

Immigration judges are not allowed to consider family unity to the extent we think is needed to protect human rights. In the case of a very minor or very old criminal conviction, family ties don’t matter. Even if someone has close U.S. citizen family members, the removal still takes priority. We have documented situations where people who have been outstanding members of society, with multiple U.S. citizen children, and who have lived here for decades, still get deported.

WP: What other kinds of immigration policies or practices would you say fall into the category of human rights problems?

Ginatta: One area is violations in the workplace. Workers are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation because of their immigration status. People working in dangerous industries may be afraid to report serious workplace violations or women, such as farm workers, may be afraid to report sexual assaults, for fear they will be reported to immigration authorities and deported.

There is also the right to remedy. This is a key human rights principle. You should have the right to access law enforcement, and policies that create a fear or block between a person who witnesses a crime or is a victim of a crime and the police are human rights violations. We have documented many situations where people are afraid to contact the police because they fear a contact about a crime will become an inquiry into their immigration status.

WP: Do you see the deportation of illegal immigrants as a human rights abuse?

We are very worried about the growth of criminal prosecutions of illegal entrants into the U.S.. This is a federal crime and now people who are trying to come into the U.S. to be reunited with their families are facing federal prison time. These prosecutions have spiked to almost 100,000 a year. They are changing the population within federal prisons. Immigration is becoming the most prosecuted federal crime, and Latinos are becoming the number one ethnic group inside federal prisons because of this.