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Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) hold a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 15, 2019. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) speaks as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) hold a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 15, 2019. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib Lead Call for UN Probe Into Alleged DHS Human Rights Abuses

"Our government cannot be allowed to commit human rights atrocities or escape investigation, oversight, or criticism based on its powerful geopolitical position, as it so often has."

Jessica Corbett

The four first-term progressive congresswomen collectively called the Squad led a letter Friday calling for independent international investigation of "recent, ongoing, and credible allegations of egregious human rights abuses by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its components, and its private contractors."

"From the unwanted and unnecessary hysterectomies of migrant women, to the forced separation of children from their families, to the indefinite detention of immigrants in abhorrent conditions—the cruelty and callousness of the Department of Homeland Security under [President] Donald Trump knows no bounds," Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said in a statement Friday.

"This administration has demonstrated time and again its utter disregard for the lives of our immigrant neighbors, while our institutions of government have done little to hold it accountable—that must change. It's time we had a truly independent, external, and impartial investigation into these alleged human rights abuses by DHS, and I am proud to partner with my sisters in service in leading this call," she added.

Pressley was joined in demanding a probe of the agency's actions under the president by fellow Squad members Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) as well as Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.).

The lawmakers sent identical, detailed letters (pdf) requesting investigations to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. Human Rights Council, and 14 independent experts that report to the council.

"All countries, regardless of size, power, or international standing must respect the human rights of all people and the United States is no exception," the letters state.
"Our government cannot be allowed to commit human rights atrocities or escape investigation, oversight, or criticism based on its powerful geopolitical position, as it so often has."

The letters come after the Los Angeles Times reported late Thursday that "at least 19 women at a Georgia immigration facility are now alleging that a doctor performed, or pressured them to undergo, 'overly aggressive' or 'medically unnecessary' surgery without their consent, including procedures that affect their ability to have children."

Although the DHS inspector general already opened an investigation into the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia after revelations from a whistleblower about medical practices at the facility, the lawmakers and supporters of their letters emphasized the need for independent reviews of those and other allegations.

"Holding the Department of Homeland Security accountable for its long history of abuses is a human rights, reproductive justice, and public health imperative—one that has been put on the backburner at the expense and detriment of our immigrant neighbors," declared Tlaib.

"That they have now been accused of literally removing immigrant women's wombs is perhaps the most egregious yet," she said. "As a mother, as a human being, I can no longer simply continue to call for our government to investigate itself. We've been down that road and it has resulted in no meaningful change, only impunity and additional atrocities."

Omar took direct aim at the president for forcibly separating families at the southern border—a widely condemned policy which, as a court filing from the ACLU revealed earlier this week, has led to at least 545 children remaining apart from parents, who haven't yet been located. The filing says about two-thirds of the parents are believed to have been deported to their countries of origin without their children.

"There can be no question now: The president of the United States oversaw massive human rights abuses within our own country, against children no less," Omar said. "This was child abuse on a massive scale. It is clear that the administration itself does not have the ability to hold itself accountable in a transparent or impartial matter."

The letters are endorsed by 53 groups, including Project South and the Government Accountability Project, which represent the Georgia whistleblower. The Government Accountability Project also represents "eight other whistleblowers within the DHS immigration system whose disclosures about practices that endanger the lives of immigrants in detention helped spur this call for intervention by the United Nations," noted staff attorney and International Program deputy director Samantha Feinstein.

"Unfortunately their warnings not only failed to prompt accountability and reform, but the DHS and its contractors revealed their indifference at best, and willful disregard at worst, to the lives of immigrants in detention," Feinstein said. "We applaud the calls by members of Congress for the United Nations to investigate the human rights violations revealed by whistleblowers, whose disclosure[s] are essential to ensuring that fundamental human rights are enforced."

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