Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Situation of Immigrant Defenders in the United States

February 16, 2018

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep concern about allegations that the United States is targeting immigrant human rights defenders and community leaders for detention and deportation. The IACHR calls on the United States to adopt measures to ensure an environment in which they can do their work as human rights defenders freely, without threat of immigration detention and deportation. The IACHR also urges the United States to reconsider its policy of closing legal avenues for migrants and refugees to reach or remain in a regular migration status in the United States.

The IACHR has received concerning information indicating that immigrant human rights defenders and community leaders are being targeted by the United States Department of Homeland Security after being identified for their public advocacy work to defend immigrants’ rights and social justice. Such is the case of Maru Mora Villalpando, Amer Othman Adi, Jean Montrevil, and Ravi Ragbir, who have all recently denounced the practices of the immigration authorities, which they consider unacceptable and inhumane for all persons subjected to it, through demonstrations, videos, radio, television, interviews, public remarks, and public statements. The aforementioned occurs in the context of restrictive United States immigration policies, for which the IACHR has previously expressed its concern.

Community leader Maru Mora Villalpando has lived in the United States for more than two decades, and is the founder of the Northwest Detention Center Resistance, organization that advocates for the rights of immigrants in detention. On December 20, 2017, she received a notice to appear in deportation proceedings issued by the U.S. Government without warning, or any criminal incident or contact with law enforcement. The IACHR is also concerned about information received on the January 29, 2018, deportation of community leader Amer Othman Adi, who lived in the United States for 39 years and was detained without warning by ICE during a check-in appointment on January 16, 2018, to be later transferred to the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown for detention.

Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir are two leaders living in the United States for more than three decades that work with the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Jean Montrevil was detained by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers outside his home on January 3, 2018, and Ravi Ragbir was detained at a routine check-in appointment with ICE on January 11, 2018. Both were then transferred to a federal immigration prison in Florida. Jean Montrevil was subsequently deported to Haiti. Ravi was granted a temporary stay of deportation after suing the federal government on First Amendment grounds; his deportation has been stayed until a follow-up court ruling is issued.

The IACHR reiterates that reprisals against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees of every human being, but undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and leave all those for whom they fight defenseless. The Commission also calls to mind that the work of human rights defenders is essential for the construction of a solid, lasting democratic society, and rights defenders play a leading role in the process of pursuing the full attainment of the rule of law and the strengthening of democracy.

The IACHR recalls that in accordance with international law, and with the norms and standards of the Inter-American system, any process that may result in the expulsion or deportation of a foreigner must be individual in nature, in order to evaluate the personal circumstances of each individual, including, at minimum, identifying the person and clarifying the particular circumstances of his or her immigration status. Likewise, this proceeding must not discriminate on the basis of nationality, color, race, sex, language, religion, political opinion, social origin or other status, and must observe the minimum guarantees of due process.

Commissioner Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, stated: “The work of immigrant human rights defenders is vital to give a voice to thousands of people at risk of arbitrary detention and deportation. Retaliatory practices that silence them, limit their work and threaten their stay in US territory, disproportionately harm activists, migrants and their families and communities.”

Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur for the United States, affirmed: “These arbitrary practices must end as they pose serious obstacles for the effective enjoyment of the right to defend the human rights of migrants and the right of any person to freedom of speech and expression.” In this respect, Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, warned: “Any eventual decision to detain and deport an immigrant human rights defender must take into account the strong family and cultural ties they have created in the United States for decades, including impacts on US citizen relatives, as well as their contributions to U.S. society.”

Defenders of immigrants’ rights must enjoy an enabling environment to carry out their work without fear of reprisals and undue restrictions, and the State has the obligation to guarantee it. The IACHR reaffirms its interest in working with the government of the United States in the quest for solutions that ensure full observance of the human rights of migrants and human rights defenders.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 029/18