Human Rights in the US: Immigration Policy, Human Trafficking

The third paragraph of the  Report on Human Rights in the USA, released by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reviews the US immigration policy and illegal human trafficking through the US borders.

About 400 thousand migrants and victims of human trafficking are taken into custody for different periods of time annually in the USA. 4.5 million American children currently have at least one parent residing in the USA illegally (let alone one million illegally residing children). There are cases of immigrants being forced into continuous labor, 16-24 hours per day. Immigrant workers arriving into the USA often become victims of sexual abuse. Human rights activists are especially concerned about the high number of deaths among immigrants attempting to get into the USA illegally.


The U.S. immigration policy is a subject of reasonable criticism of international human rights activists. Annually, about 400 thousand immigrants, including those seeking asylum and victims of human trafficking, are taken into custody for different periods of time in this country. Often they are kept in conditions similar to or even worse than those of criminal prisoners. Minimum detention standards for illegal immigrants adopted by the U.S. administration in September 2008 are not mandatory and, thus, are disregarded on a regular basis.

In the years 2003-2009, over a hundred people died in U.S. immigration centers. In March, 2012 F.Dominguez died from pneumonia in immigration custody in California, after falling ill while waiting for deportation and apparently not receiving proper medical care. According to the official data, it was the sixth death occurring in such U.S. centers since October 2011.

Sexual abuse is not rare in immigration prisons. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, in the years 2007-2011, inmates filed over two hundred official complaints of rape and other types of sexual mistreatment.

The number of deportations of illegal immigrants from the USA has recently risen to 400 thousand people a year. And despite the U.S. claims that primarily habitual criminals undergo deportation, foreigners caught at petty offences often get banished from the country. A lot of immigrants facing deportation do not have access to qualified legal assistance. In such states as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas for every 510 people in immigration custody there is only one attorney specializing in that area of the law.

In the vast majority of cases, neither the duration of stay in the country of the person being deported (according to the Pew Research Center, almost two thirds of illegal immigrants have resided in the USA for more than 10 years, 35 per cent ‑ more than 15 years) nor him or her having an American family (many have spouses and children with American citizenship or permanent residence permit) is taken into account. 4.5 million American children currently have at least one parent residing in the USA illegally. Another million children are illegal residents themselves.

Despite the record deportation numbers, the authorities of the states bordering on Mexico are dissatisfied with the federal authorities’ too gentle, in their opinion, policy towards illegal migrants. Since April 23, 2010 the state of Arizona has enacted the law on strengthening the control of illegal immigration that allows policemen to demand identification documents and detain passers-by if they have a reason to suspect that they stay in the USA illegally[1]. Moreover, the law enforcement officers are obliged to verify the immigration status of all detainees before releasing them.

According to the report recently published by Human Rights Watch (No Way to Live: Alabama’s Immigrant Law), similar law in the state of Alabama has already led to the increase in racial profiling and mistreatment toward immigrants by law enforcement authorities, as well as civilians. In addition to that, the Alabama law obliges schools to verify the immigration status of students and prohibits any “business deals” between state authorities and illegal immigrants, including providing them with municipal services, taking their lawsuits for consideration or collecting their real estate taxes.

The report published in August 2012 by the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that foreigners, even those that have spent over 20 years in the country, are significantly behind the Americans born in the USA by all well-being indicators. In 2010, 23 per cent out of forty million immigrants (legal and illegal) and their children were below the poverty line, 36 per cent depended on at least one welfare program, 29 per cent did not have a medical insurance, and 13 per cent lived in over-occupied houses.

At least half of the employees in the U.S. agricultural sector are immigrants. They often suffer from exploitation. And it is not just the labor rights of illegal immigrants that get violated, but those of foreigners working in the country legally, too. As NGO Southern Poverty Law Center points out, in order to participate in the federal immigration employment program (Visa H‑2A), foreign workers often pay a large contribution to their “recruiters”, thus going into debt. Upon arriving in the USA, they do not have the right to change the employer that provided them with visas even if they get exploited. At the same time, they cannot leave the country until they save enough money to pay off the debt.

In June 2012 Wal-Mart retail chain had to suspend the contract with one of its suppliers, Louisiana seafood processing company C.J.’s Seafood, following a scandal that broke out when the National Guestworker Alliance made public eight Mexican workers’ statements that they were severely exploited by this company. Particularly, they were locked inside the company’s plant and forced to work 16-24 hours a day (up to 80 hours a week) for minimum wage under the threat of physical abuse and harm to their families. The investigation following this case resulted in the U.S. Department of Labor issuing 622 warnings total on violation of labor legislation to 12 out of 18 Wal-Mart’s suppliers.

Immigrant workers arriving in the USA often become victims of sexual abuse. In 2008, NGO Southern Poverty Law Center interviewed over two hundred women from Latin American countries working in five southern American states. Almost three forth said that they suffered from sexual harassment in their workplaces. In 2011, Human Rights Watch conducted a similar survey. Its report Cultivating Fear was based on the information provided by 160 interviewees, including female agriculture workers, farmers, law enforcement officials, lawyers, and other experts from eight states. Almost all of them agreed that sexual abuse against labour migrants working in agriculture was a pressing problem. All of the foreign female workers that took part in the survey said that either they or somebody they knew were victims of sexual harassment in the past.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only about 40 per cent of rape and sexual harassment victims complain to the police (official statistics suggest that every fifth woman in the USA has at least once been a victim of sexual violence).

Human rights activists are especially concerned about the high number of deaths among immigrants attempting to get into the USA illegally. The tightening of border control makes many of them take high risks and attempt to reach the USA through those sections of the U.S.-Mexican border that are not easily accessible. Experts claim that 150-500 people die every year from dehydration and hypothermia in the Arizona desert (border patrol detected 492 such cases in 2005). According to the data provided by NGO Amnesty International, in the years 1998-2008, the attempts to get to the USA illegally ended in a tragedy for 5.3 thousand people.

The report Culture of Cruelty issued in 2011 by No More Deathsorganization claims that the American border patrol that intentionally drives the illegal immigrants into particularly dangerous and not easily accessible areas heighten the risk of them dying. When being detained, illegal immigrants, including children, are often denied water, food, and medical treatment; 10 per cent of the detainees are physically abused. Immigrants also complain of insanitary and highly uncomfortable custody conditions, confiscation of personal belongings, including identity documents, psychological pressure and intentional separation of families.


[1] This practice is banned in many major cities, primarily so that illegal immigrants would not be afraid to cooperate with the police in criminal investigations. There is also an economic angle to this policy: economies of the «cities of asylum» largely depend on immigrants’ cheap labor.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Leave a Reply