Every year, without fail, the U.S. State Department issues a human rights report on nearly 200 countries and territories globally. The report is prepared using information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, non-governmental and international organizations, jurists and legal experts, journalists, academics, labor activists and published reports on those countries, and then submitted to the U.S. Congress.
In the report, many countries are chided for many things, including prison and detention center conditions. But what about the U.S. record on human rights as it relates to its own detention centers?
Of course the U.S. does not issue a human rights report on itself. That would be too much, too audacious. Luckily, there are a number of independent rights organizations and groups that do fight for and monitor human rights, particularly of immigrants in this country, and the current situation is not pretty.
Here are some instances that should horrify many:
Detaining pregnant immigrant women
The U.S. Federal immigration officials have now ended a general practice of releasing pregnant women facing deportation under a policy revealed by the Trump administration.
The previous Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy had been that pregnant undocumented immigrants being detained were allowed to be freed on bond or supervised release.
But Donald Trump has ordered ICE to keep more undocumented immigrants in detention, including many pregnant women, who fled violence and abuse in their home countries, arguing that too many are released and never appear for their deportation hearings. The new policy was quietly signed three months ago with no hearing or public comment.
Holding immigrants in “freezers”
Human Right Watch has found that U.S. immigration authorities routinely detain men, women and children, including infants, in frigid holding cells, sometimes for days, when they are taken into custody at or near the U.S. border with Mexico. Migrants and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents alike commonly refer to these cells as hieleras (freezers).
Women and children detained along the border usually spend one to three nights, and sometimes longer, in CBP holding cells, where they sleep on the floor, often with only a Mylar blanket, similar to the foil wrappers used by marathon runners, to protect them from the cold. Border agents sometimes require them to remove and discard sweaters or other layers of clothing, purportedly for security reasons, before they enter the holding cells. There is reportedly no access to showers and hygiene materials, including soap, toothbrushes and menstrual hygiene products.
Children taken from their migrant parents
New data reviewed by The New York Times shows that hundreds of immigrant children have been taken from parents at the U.S. border. In fact, the number has been put at more than 700 children since October last year. That includes more than 100 children under the age of 4, according to data prepared by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services that takes custody of children who have been removed from migrant parents.
Alleged “forced labor” in immigrant detention
A new class-action lawsuit alleges the private company behind the Stewart Detention Center in South Georgia made millions in profits while forcing detainees to work for meager wages. The immigrants in detention made between $1 and $4 a day for tasks such as preparing food, mopping floors and doing laundry, according to the lawsuit, which describes the practice as a “deprivation scheme” and alleges it’s a violation of human trafficking laws.
“Mass” scale sexual abuse in ICE detention
A major investigation by media house, The Intercept, has revealed harrowing accounts of nearly 1,224 detainees at U.S. immigration centers having suffered sexual abuse, with half of those accused belonging to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including detention center guards and even medical officers. The investigative piece is littered with harrowing accounts of sexual abuse and assault suffered by the detainees. Among the reports is of a female immigrant detainee being cuffed and maced after an argument with a fellow detainee at a Florida immigration detention center, with an officer sitting on her “like a person would sit on a horse,” his “erect penis on her butt” as she lay on the ground. More alarming is the reported intimidation tactics in place to stop the detainees from reporting sexual abuse.
These are just some of the blatant human rights violations occurring in immigrant detention centers across the U.S. and to immigrants nationwide.
Perhaps it’s time the countries listed in this report begin documenting and releasing their own human rights reports on the U.S., particularly on immigrants in U.S. detention centers and violations of immigrants’ rights in general.
The writer is CMO at Hard Beat Communications, Inc., which owns the brands NewsAmericasNow, CaribPRWire and InvestCaribbeanNow.