By: Selena Hood, Aileen Flores, Odette Moran
The focus of this dossier will be the violation of human rights along the heavily militarized US-Mexico border, specifically the victimization of Mexican and Central American persons seeking refuge in the United States. The evidence presented will analyze a few injustices along Mexico’s northern/US’s southern border. The main aggressors will be state actors from both nation-states, the United States and Mexico. US and Mexican migration policies alike are restrictive in the admittance of refugees into the country–making their legal processes long, difficult, and detailed for anyone applying. Then, we start to ask ourselves how efficient these policies are and what they are actually doing versus what they were meant to do. Entangled and in battle with our aggressors will be groups who try to defend the humanity of migrating persons. These actors include non-governmental organizations and international agencies such as No Mas Muertes, Amnesty International, and the United Nations. Organizations such as these play a prominent role in defending the rights of those who fall victim to the violence perpetrated along the border–becoming a voice for those who are and have been systematically silenced. They share universal goals of justice, equality, and freedom. Then, we turn to look at particular case studies from two overlooked groups, women and children. What are the special protections given to these two groups and how are their rights continually being violated today and right now? How are the groups mentioned above helping them?
Rights and Migration
Central American refugees seeking asylum in the United States are left in uncertainty after leaving their home nation. They are fleeing the place where they were born and must venture to an unknown world, hoping to be received and accepted. The journey from Central America to the United States has been largely documented by scholars as being difficult–definitively placing migrating bodies in danger. It is not uncommon for a refugee to experience hunger, challenging landscapes, rape, sickness, violent confrontations, and death during the grueling journey towards asylum. Dehumanizing acts happen even once the wanted destination is reached. However, the uncertainty refugees and asylum seekers confront is ever present during their journey. That is because rights are something usually thought to be grounded on a national level—citizens of El Salvador would be protected by Salvadoran laws, Mexican citizens by Mexican law, and United States citizens by American law. As a refugee, national law no longer applies—injustices experienced cannot be fought through a state level. Asylum seekers must adhere to a much broader protection, they must turn to international law.
Border or Death Sentence?
Due to the pressing need to escape conditions in Central America, deterrence strategies in the United States do not work to stop immigration. These strategies only increase the suffering and death toll of the immigrants. The militarization of the the US-Mexico border has created a funnel of immigration to the more remote areas of the desert where there is rough terrain and little resources to aid their travel through the desert.Many organizations such as No Mas Muertes have tried to help the immigrant’s path with first aid, water, and food however they have been criminalized. Volunteers are often fined or arrested for “operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area”, “abandonment of property”, and “littering” while trying to assist the migrants or leave survival necessities for them.According to the group, No Mas Muertes, they recovered the bodies of thirty-two unfortunate migrants who died trying to cross the border without help. According to Amnesty, between 1998 and 2012 over five thousand people had died trying to cross the border. Most had died in the desert on the way there, those that made it through the desert had died by gunfire at the border.
Applying for Asylum
In the 1951 Convention, a refugee is internationally defined as “someone who is unable or willing to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” In the United States, this definition is something that needs to be proved by an asylum applicant—which is a more lengthy and difficult process than assumed. The first step towards asylum in the United States is entering U.S. land, which could be, for example, via border patrol or entry point. (Patrolling representations of the state are supposed to ask a series of question that categorize the refugee as a possible asylum seeker.) From there, the asylee must fill an I-589 or “Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.” This is a twelve-page application with a corresponding fourteen-page instruction manual—both of which are solely in English and could only be completed in English. If the form is not completed in English, then it would be returned to the applicant. In this application, an asylum seeker must prove, as stated by the 1951 Convention, to have well-founded fear of prosecution. This application is then reviewed by a judge who interprets and determines the validity of its claim. If this fear cannot be proven or is thought to be illegitimate by the reviewing judge, then the person who applied can be removed, and the unapproved application can be used as grounds for removal. Then, with this, asylum seeking persons are under the constant pressure to prove their truth. The validity of their experience must be well represented in a document drafted in a language foreign to their own and is under scrutiny of a single person. This judge will decide whether they get to stay or are returned–even if it means to their impending death.
Border patrol’s abuse of power and authority is evidenced through the targeted mistreatment of female migrants–often raping and sexually abusing the already susceptible bodies. Silvia Falcon argues that rape is strategically utilized as a war crime, a method of torture, and a link to genocide. Rape, in this case, is a means to strip the sense of humanity and to attain power in a systematic way. Power relations are established through the abuse of authority and the consequent incitement of fear. Of women who were surveyed on their personal experience in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, more than two-thirds of the sample surveyed reported to feeling at least some fear. Falcon argues that the border region is experiencing what is referred to as national security rape, a tool used to aid a nervous state, and systematic mass rape, an instrument of open warfare.
Unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United States have a more complicated set of restrictions, assumptions, and right violations. Because children are usually not thought as individuals and instead as part of a family where parents/guardians are the authority, “many refugee claims made by children have been assessed incorrectly or overlooked altogether.” This is in part why it is important to appeal to the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This document clearly states that children often suffer child-specific forms of persecution and need child-specific rights. However, as is the case with many children fleeing gang prosecution in the Northern Triangle, their claims are often left forgotten or ignored. Their voice is not as valid than an adult’s–making it more difficult to prove their truth.
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