The U.S. Punitive Policies Undercut Rights
Since January 2019, more than 57,000 asylum-seekers have returned to Mexico to wait for their day in immigration court in the US. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created the program to prevent asylum seekers from being released in the U.S. before their asylum hearings; a program they call catch and release. Asylum-seekers have faced violence and persecution while waiting in Tijuana, a border city in Mexico, and have been virtually unable to access legal assistance. A report from the organization Human Rights First found that more than 816 people in the program have been murdered, tortured, or attacked while waiting in Mexico for their court hearing.
“The Trump administration’s punitive approach to asylum seekers and poor people of color has pushed people so far from rights protections that even their lives may be at risk,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, US Program director at Human Rights Watch. “For certain marginalized groups in the US, the government appears to be committing a total assault on their fundamental human rights.”
Local policing has effectively “criminalized” communities of color most affected by poverty. Using criminal processes to address social problems fuels incarceration, and the US maintains the world’s highest reported rate of incarceration, despite slight decreases of people locked up in recent years.
Uneven healthcare coverage across US states creates an environment in which women in the US die at much higher rates than they do in comparably wealthy countries from preventable causes of maternal deaths and cervical cancer. The Trump administration’s “gag” rule, which went into effect in August, bars doctors receiving federal family planning (Title X) funds from giving women information on the full range of pregnancy options available.
Reinstated by President Trump shortly after he took office in January, 2017, the newly expanded version of the Gag Rule targets organizations working on any program funded by U.S. global health assistance, including programs that expand access to contraceptives and reproductive health care, HIV/AIDS testing, treatment, and prevention, efforts to fight malaria, and public health programs working to improve child and maternal health outcomes. As such, it represents the most dangerous version of this already damaging legislation ever instated.
In its foreign policy, the Trump administration flouted international human rights and humanitarian law, undermined multilateral institutions, and made little use of its leverage to promote human rights abroad. Although the administration sanctioned some individuals and governments, it also partnered with – and publicly praised – governments and leaders with horrific rights records. The administration approved sales of advanced military equipment to Saudi Arabia despite the country’s responsibility for numerous war crimes in Yemen and failed to properly investigate military operations killing civilians in Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), the U.S. is the world’s largest arms exporter. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia is the main recipient of American arms, accounting for 22% of all U.S. defence exports.
In its report Human Rights Watch made some recommendations to the US:
The Trump administration should end abusive policies that punish asylum seekers and subject them and migrant children and families to unnecessary or inhumane detention and instead adopt fair asylum and migrant procedures.
Federal, state, and local authorities should invest in the health and well-being of communities to end overpolicing of communities of color and should reverse policies that erode the health and reproductive rights of women.
The US government needs to act at all levels to tip the scales in favor of human rights over human suffering for everyone in the US.