Tuesday, February 14, 2017
In the wake of the Appeals Court setback to Donald Trump’s Executive Order to ban entry of nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries and suspend refugee admissions, his administration began following through on its promise to crackdown on undocumented immigrants, with raids reported in 6 states, stoking terror in immigrant communities. The stepped up enforcement highlights two other EO’s on immigration that have garnered less attention than the travel bans, but will wreak their own havoc.
The EO Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, signed on January 25, blocks funds to sanctuary cities and prioritizes the deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of or charged with a criminal offense, committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense or "have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter," among others. After the raids began, Trump tweeted that "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!" But among the first deported was Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a mother of two whose felony consisted of using a false social security number in 2008. She came to the country as a teenager, and was detained when she attended her annual check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Her children provided a wrenching account of their family torn asunder by their mother’s deportation.
The January 25 EO on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements also affects refugees. The order directs the Department of Homeland Security to begin building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and ends the “catch and release” program, expanding indefinite detention for undocumented migrants, including families. Authorities can also deport those apprehended at the border immediately, although many of them have international protection needs, especially those fleeing Central America’s violence plagued Northern Triangle countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Trump’s order runs afoul of the country’s non-refoulement obligations. Many presenting at the border have valid asylum claims, and Mexico, which receives aid from Washington to stem the flow of migrants reaching the U.S. border, has been unable or unwilling to protect rights and safety of migrants traveling through its territory.
Conditions in the Northern Triangle countries remain dire. On January 31, the NGO Global Witness issued a report on “Honduras: The Deadliest Place to Defend the Planet.” The report found that 123 people have been killed protecting their land in Honduras since the 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected president Mel Zelaya. “Our investigations reveal how Honduras’ political and business elites are using corrupt and criminal means to cash in on the country’s natural wealth, and are enlisting the support of state forces to murder and terrorise the communities who dare to stand in their way,” said Billy Kyte, a campaigner for the organization. The report highlights the murder of indigenous and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, an internationally acclaimed human rights defender who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Her killing elicited international condemnation. Although the Honduran government has arrested the crime’s material authors, including several who had ties to the military, Cáceres’ family denounces the state’s failure to identify the intellectual authors of her murder.
Among the recommendations in the Global Witness report are the withdrawal of U.S. security aid to the country. “As Honduras’ biggest aid donor, the US should help bring an end to the bloody crackdown on Honduras’ rural population,” said Global Witness Advocacy Director Billy Kyte. “Instead it is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks. The incoming US administration must urgently address this paradox, which is fueling, not reducing, insecurity across the country.” Shortly after releasing the report, two Global Witness employees working in Honduras were widely disparaged and threatened with legal action for their work. In a statement, Amnesty International said it is “concerned that the intensity of the smear campaign against human rights defenders, and the silence of the Honduran authorities rejecting statements that stigmatize their activities, facilitates physical attacks against them.”
Despite an abysmal human rights record in Honduras, Washington continues to provide funding to the government. Until deadly violence in Honduras abates, desperate refugees will continue to flee. And if the Trump administration has its way, desperate refugees will not find protection at the U.S. border. Human rights abroad and human rights at home are often closely intertwined.