Immigration Enforcement Results in Systemic Human Rights Abuses: AI

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

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) reported this week.

The organization’s new report, In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations

in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest, 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


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


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 English or Spanish and holding only tribal identification


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

participated in a research mission to the Southwest border with Amnesty

International, said: “I was moved to tears upon hearing the stories of the

ill-treatment of immigrants. These are individuals whose only objective is

providing for their families. If our nation is to promote and protect human

rights around the world then we need to start implementing that notion at home and

must do better.

Among its recommendations, Amnesty

International urges the U.S.


??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


??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.

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