U.S. Current Trend: Targeting of Immigrant Rights Activists

In December 2018, a group of immigrant rights groups and law school human rights clinics presented the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with evidence of the U.S. government’s targeting of immigrant rights activists. (Their submission and testimony may be found here and here.) As the United States grapples with how best to deal with undocumented immigrants, such targeting threatens to discourage the work of activists and increase the chance that immigrants’rights will be abused.

Current Trend: Target Immigration Rights Activist (header image: the statue of liberty)

In December 2018, a group of immigrant rights groups and law school human rights clinics presented the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with evidence of the U.S. government’s targeting of immigrant rights activists. (Their submission and testimony may be found here and here.) As the United States grapples with how best to deal with undocumented immigrants, such targeting threatens to discourage the work of activists and increase the chance that immigrants’rights will be abused.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency has denied that it targets immigrants for deportation or extra scrutiny because of their activism. Although it is difficult to prove systematic targeting, given the secrecy surrounding immigration enforcement in the United States, rights advocates and political leaders see a pattern and point to at least twenty cases from New York to Texas in which activists were targeted.

One of the most prominent cases of alleged targeting involves Migrant Justice, a Vermont-based organization that advocates for better labor conditions for immigrant farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented. In November 2018, Migrant Justice filed charges in U.S. federal court against immigration authorities, who, Migrant Just claimed, had surveilled and infiltrated the group and harassed and detained its members. Migrant Justice argued that its free speech and association rights were violated and it has had to shift its focus from its core mission—exposing harmful labor practices—to simply protecting its members.

A second prominent case involves Alejandra Pablos, who came to the United States as a baby. She is field coordinator for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in New York City and has advocated for legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses and pay in-state college tuition rates. In January 2018, she was arrested during a peaceful protest against deportations outside of the Department of Homeland Security building in Washington, DC. During a routine check-in with ICE the following March, Pablos was detained for forty days and now faces deportation. Rights advocates claim ICE’s actions were motivated by her activism.

Or, finally, consider the example of ShaCorrie Wimbley Tunkara, a U.S. citizen, whose husband was held in an immigration detention facility in Washington State for over ten months in 2018. The Seattle Timesinterviewed Tunkara about her husband’s experience in detention, including poor treatment for a medical condition and inadequate nutrition. The day after the article was published, ICE officials notified Tunkara’s husband that he should prepare for deportation, and approximately two weeks later he was deported without being given the chance to say goodbye to his wife and children. Tunkara and others claim that the timing of his deportation and the manner in which it was undertaken was ICE’s retaliation for her interview.

A number of other cases also involve ordinary people and their family members, who, after speaking up, experience the seemingly selective attention of ICE and other federal authorities. Immigrants’ rights communities see a clear pattern, and they fear continuing reprisals, including deportation, against activists or family members who may be vulnerable to deportation. As the Inter-American Commission and other groups have pointed out, such actions threaten to silence the voices needed to protect the rights of immigrants in the United States.

Published: January 2019

For more information contact Nick Robinson, ICNL Legal Advisor: nrobinson@icnl.org
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