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Migrants seeking asylum wait in line with their case paperwork on October 5, 2019, during a weekly trip by volunteers, lawyers, paralegals and interpreters to the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico. © 2019 Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP      

(Washington, DC, January 15, 2020) – The Trump administration is cruelly punishing migrants and eviscerating the right to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2020. Many state and local governments have stepped up policing in impoverished communities rather than address problems of homelessness, mental health, and gangs with services, support, and economic development.

“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.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.

The government has detained migrants, including children, in inhumane, traumatizing, jail-like detention facilities, forcibly separated families, and chilled access to public assistance for immigrants and their US citizen family members. It has returned asylum seekers to Mexico to await hearings in dangerous and unhealthy conditions and moved to block asylum claims from people who pass through other countries before reaching the US border.  

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.

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 abusive 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.

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,” Austin-Hillery said.


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