Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Zero-Tolerance: The Trump Administration's Human Rights Violations Against Migrants on the Southern Border
My friend and co-author, Allyson McKinney Timm, observes that when Americans invoke the language of "human rights" the picture often shifts to some faraway land, somewhere else less concerned with law and liberty. But the principles of inherent human dignity, justice, and morality at the foundation of modern human rights laws are also at the foundation of American independence and constitutional rights. Human rights are and must be an integral part of our politics, law, and government in the United States.
In our article forthcoming in the Drexel Law Review, Zero-Tolerance: The Trump Administration's Human Rights Violations Against Migrants on the Southern Border, we analyze the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policies through lenses of humans rights laws and principles. It’s available for download at SSRN here.
The article arises out of long connections and relationships in the clinical community. Ally and I met at least a decade ago at an AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education in a session on religion, faith, and clinical practice and pedagogy. Ally was a fellow in Yale’s Human Rights Clinic. She completed seminary at Yale Divinity School after her season in the clinic, and she has developed critical, compelling work at the intersection of faith, religious communities, and human rights – centering the inherent dignity of individuals (the imago dei in our Christian traditions) in law and policy.
In recent years, Ally founded Justice Revival. It became a client and stalwart partner for the Community Justice Clinic that I direct at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law. Justice Revival is committed to advancing human rights education and advocacy in the United States, especially within communities of faith.
In this spirit, Justice Revival and the Community Justice Clinic embarked on a multi-year project to analyze the Trump Administration’s immigration policies through lenses of human rights and international human rights laws. Clinic students worked closely with Ally through structured, progressive research to consider whether zero-tolerance enforcement, family separations, child detentions, and other features of Trump’s immigration policies complied with international human rights.
We found that they do not. The Trump Administration’s policies and actions amount to profound, gross violations of human rights under treaties the United States has ratified, conventions it has signed but not yet ratified, and under customary international law. These policies led the United States to violate even deeper, more fundamental, moral principles that are the foundation of human rights law.
Our article merely builds on the mighty advocacy of many more heroic, dedicated, brilliant lawyers, clinicians, and journalists who work tirelessly to illuminate these policies and their effects on people migrating across the southern border and seeking asylum. We are witnesses, helping amplify their voices to create an analytical record of these catastrophic, immoral, illegal actions under the Trump Administration.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there may seem to be only one story, and this may seem like old news to some. But the story of the Trump Administration’s callous cruelty to migrants and asylum-seekers continues to this day. It shows us much of this President’s values and the lengths to which his administration will go to impose its fearful, impulsive will.
The zero-tolerance story reveals the utter necessity of a government that prioritizes the inherent dignity of all people as its greatest end. Cruelty cannot be our national policy; we are only great when we lead with faith, hope, and love. The United States simply cannot survive by building cowardly, brittle walls against the world. We will only ever flourish when we embrace all our neighbors and ourselves with dignity and justice.