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Communities living along the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly Latinos, individuals perceived to be of Latino origin and Indigenous communities, are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) reports today.
The organization's new report, In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest, highlights systemic failures of federal, state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws on the basis of non-discrimination.
Among the many findings, the report illustrates that the United States is failing in its obligations to respect immigrants' right to life, ensure access to justice for immigrant survivors of crime, particularly women and children, and recognize the border crossing rights of indigenous communities.
According to the U.S. government, there are approximately 14,500-17,500 people trafficked into the United States each year for labor or sexual exploitation. However, barriers caused by breakdowns in the system that identify immigrant survivors of trafficking leave many without any relief from immigration detention and deportation. Of the 5,000 T-visas available annually to survivors of human trafficking, statistics show that only six percent are actually utilized.
"The culture around immigration in the United States has created a perfect storm -- survivors of trafficking and other crimes like domestic violence are increasingly seen as criminals rather than as victims," saidJustin Mazzola, Amnesty International researcher and lead author of the report. "At the same time, fewer people are willing to report suchcrimes, as they feel it may expose them to immigration enforcement. In addition, many feel that police will be unable or unwilling to help."
Carolina, a Honduran native who was brought to the United States after being repeatedly sold for sex, beaten and drugged, was held for six months in detention in Pearsall, Texas, after immigration agents found her in the trunk of a car crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. While detained, Carolina was denied certification as a trafficking victim because she had originally wanted to come to the United States voluntarily before she was sold into sexual slavery and trafficked into the country.
It was only after a review of her case in February 2011, more than two years after she was discovered in the car trunk, that Carolina's trafficking victim visa was approved, allowing her to remain in the United States and become eligible for mental health and support services. "Now, I can finally begin to heal," Carolina said following her release from detention.
Immigration control measures increasingly jeopardize individuals' right to life when crossing the border. U.S. policies intentionally reroute migrants from traditional entry points to the most hostile terrain in the Southwest United States, including crossings over vast deserts, rivers and high mountains in searing heat. From 1998 to 2008, as many as 5,287 migrants died while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
The report finds that indigenous communities are left particularly vulnerable to discrimination and other abuses stemming from immigration enforcement. Indigenous peoples, whose traditional territories and cultural communities span the U.S.-Mexico border and necessitate frequent crossings, are often intimidated and harassed by border officials for speaking little Spanish or English and holding only tribal identification documents.
Furthermore, federal immigration programs that engage state and local police in enforcing immigration laws place Latino communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color along the border at risk of discriminatory profiling.Because monitoring and oversight of these immigration programs is vastly inadequate, those responsible for human rights abuses are rarely held to account. As a result, such practices, including targeting individuals based on their perceived ethnicity, have become commonplace and entrenched, fostering a culture of impunity that perpetuates discriminatory profiling. The recent proliferation of state laws that target immigrants place them at further risk of discrimination and impedes their right to access education and essential health care services.
Texas-born actress Amber Heard, who has participated in several research excursions to the Southwest border with Amnesty International, said: "I was moved to tears upon hearing the stories about the ill-treatment of immigrants. These are individuals whose only objective is to provide for their families. If our nation's goal is to promote and protect human rights around the world, then we need to start implementing that notion at home and we must do better."
Among its recommendations, Amnesty International urges the U.S. government:
* to suspend all immigration enforcement programs pending a review by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General to determine whether the programs can be implemented in a non-discriminatory way
* to pass legislationthat guarantees equitable access to justice and protection for survivors of crime
* to respect and facilitate the use of indigenous identity papers and immigration documents for travel across borders
* and to ensure, as a matter of priority, that its border policies and practices do not have the direct or indirect effect of leading to the deaths of migrants
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
"As the climate crisis escalates," said one advocate, "ending these destructive extraction practices is a matter of survival—not just for the whales, otters, and other animals in the channel, but for all life on earth."
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a call from several fossil fuel companies to hear their challenge to a lower court ruling handed down a year ago, which prohibited fracking in federal waters off the coast of California.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last June upheld a decision to bar the issuing of permits for offshore fracking, finding that the U.S. Department of the Interior had violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act when it allowed fracking in offshore gas and oil wells in the Pacific.
In the original case, the ruling was the result of three separate lawsuits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Wishtoyo Foundation, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and the state of California, challenging the federal government.
Earlier this year, fossil fuel companies ExxonMobil and DCOR, LLC were joined by the American Petroleum Institute in intervening in the case, filing a petition for certiorari in an effort to overturn the 9th Circuit ruling.
Despite the history of the case, the Biden administration opposed the fossil fuel companies' move, with Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar writing in a Supreme Court brief last week that "the court of appeals' decision does not warrant this court's review."
"California's amazing coast and vulnerable marine life deserve this victory, which will protect the ecosystem from the many dangers of offshore fracking," said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at CBD. "The fracking ban will help prevent more toxic chemicals from poisoning fish, sea otters, and other marine life."
EDC filed its lawsuit after finding in 2014 through several Freedom of Information Act requests that the federal government had issued more than 50 permits without conducting environmental reviews or a public comment process.
\u201cBig news in our Supreme Court case upholding a ban on offshore fracking. EDC discovered the federal government had approved 50 permits off the coast without proper review, and we filed our original lawsuit in 2014.\u201d— Environmental Defense Center (@Environmental Defense Center) 1685986264
"The Supreme Court was right to reject the oil industry's latest attempt to allow fracking and acidizing in our waters with zero meaningful environmental review," said Maggie Hall, senior attorney at EDC, on Monday. "The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the most ecologically rich and important regions in the world. As the climate crisis escalates, ending these destructive extraction practices is a matter of survival—not just for the whales, otters, and other animals in the channel, but for all life on earth."
The decision upheld by the Supreme Court forbids the Interior Department from issuing fracking permits without completing an assessment of the practice's adherence to the ESA and files an environmental impact statement that analyzes "the environmental impacts of extensive offshore fracking" and evaluates alternatives.
Monsell expressed hope that the Supreme Court's decision marks "the beginning of the end of drilling off California's coast" but noted that the Biden administration has welcomed fossil fuel extraction in federal waters, including in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Our ocean won't be truly protected," she said, "until offshore drilling stops once and for all."
"Public development banks must stop propping up a failing system, stand alongside Indigenous groups, and stop financing factory farming," said one campaigner.
A report published Monday reveals how multilateral development banks' financing of factory farms has unleashed significant social and ecological harm in Ecuador, and civil society groups say the banks' failure to consult or compensate affected Indigenous communities violates Ecuadorian law and their own policies.
Over the past 20 years, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and IDB Invest, respectively the private sector branches of the World Bank Group and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group, have collectively poured more than $200 million into the expansion of PRONACA, Ecuador's fourth-largest corporation and by far its biggest pork and poultry producer.
The new analysis, assembled by the Ecuadorian Coordinator of Organizations for the Defense of Nature and the Environment (CEDENMA) with support from a coalition of international advocacy groups including Friends of the Earth and World Animal Protection, details the dire consequences of this lending in a small province west of Ecuador's capital of Quito.
"By giving millions of dollars of public money to PRONACA, IDB Invest and the IFC are violating their own policies and causing negative impacts to Indigenous communities and fragile ecosystems in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas," Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of the Food and Agriculture Program at Friends of the Earth U.S., said in a statement.
"This report is more evidence that every dollar spent on factory farming harms communities and jeopardizes development progress," said Hamerschlag. "Public development banks must stop propping up a failing system, stand alongside Indigenous groups, and stop financing factory farming."
"We used to have a thriving tourism industry, and now we only have polluted air and water. The expansion of pig farms in our community will bring even more pollution to our already contaminated communities."
This is not the first time PRONACA, a meat giant operating more than 100 factory farms and slaughterhouses throughout Ecuador, has faced criticism for its deleterious social and ecological effects. In addition to documenting the historical and ongoing destruction the company has inflicted nationwide, the new investigation highlights how public development banks (PDBs) are complicit in the despoilation of communities in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, which is home to 15 factory farms.
It is based on surveys of local residents that CEDENMA, an alliance of 52 environmental groups, conducted in the wake of the most recent round of PDB lending to PRONACA. IDB Invest provided its first loan, worth $50 million, to the company in 2020. IFC followed up with a $50 million loan of its own in 2021, though the World Bank Group's latest PRONACA financing came on top of the $120 million it had already lent to the company.
"Our extensive interviews with community members found that PRONACA's intensive pig farms in the Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas region have continued to pollute the air and contaminate rivers, killing off fish which local people rely on for food and jobs, and harming local tourism," said CEDENMA vice president Natalia Greene.
The report estimates that PRONACA's swine production in the area generates roughly 15 million pounds of toxic waste each day, fouling the soil, air, and waterways. Moreover, it examines for the first time how IFC and IDB Invest's most recent loans to PRONACA failed to comply with Ecuadorian law and five of their own policies (Performance Standards 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7), which require them to inform Indigenous communities about new operations and compensate them for ensuing damages.
"We used to have a thriving tourism industry, and now we only have polluted air and water," said Ricardo Calazacon, a local Indigenous leader in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas and medicinal plant expert. "The expansion of pig farms in our community will bring even more pollution to our already contaminated communities. We have filed many complaints about the company to the local authorities but they have not listened to us or done anything to resolve the problems."
The following six-minute video summarizes many of the report's findings.
"CEDENMA is deeply concerned about IFC and IDB Invest's failure to adequately enforce its standards and mandates with respect to PRONACA's severe impacts on the water and the health of locally affected Indigenous communities," said Greene. "We are urging the public development banks and the government to enforce their policies and laws and help resolve long-standing impacts of PRONACA's operations on the health and well-being of Indigenous communities."
Community members and civil society groups are calling on IFC, IDB Invest, and the Ecuadorian government to uphold their obligations and force PRONACA to monitor and clean up its pollution. Their demands come amid a broader global campaign to get PDBs to "Stop Financing Factory Farming" (SFFF), including fresh efforts to persuade newly inaugurated World Bank President Ajay Banga to end all support for destructive, high-emitting livestock operations.
The SFFF campaign was launched in 2021 to expose how "financing industrial-scale meat and dairy operations directly contradicts PDBs' commitments to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and align their lending with the Paris climate agreement."
A major share of deforestation in Latin America over the past 50 years can be attributed to land clearing for cattle and animal feed production. The corporate-dominated global food system is now the leading driver of biodiversity loss, and animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, the five largest PDBs have dumped more than $4.6 billion and counting into factory farms over the past decade.
"This is Gov. DeSantis, this is his baby, this is his project."
California Attorney General Rob Bonta on Sunday accused Florida governor and 2024 GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis of duplicitously sending a group of South American migrants to Sacramento in a bid to score "cheap political points."
"This is Gov. DeSantis, this is his baby, this is his project, his fingerprints are all over it," Bonta, a Democrat, told the Los Angeles Times. "The governor signed it, the Legislature approved to fund it in the budget, and they hired Vertol Systems Co., a vendor, to carry out the work."
"It's DeSantis being exactly who he is and advertising to the world that he is petty, little... and full of political stunts that hurt, harm, and abuse and exploit people to try and get cheap political points," he added. "It's wrong."
Bonta's remarks were based on documents the 16 migrants from Venezuela and Colombia were carrying that showed the chartered flight they took from New Mexico to Sacramento was coordinated by the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Vertol Systems has arranged similar flights in the past, including the September 2022 transportation of a large group of Venezuelan and Colombian migrants from San Antonio, Texas to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
"Human trafficking is not only despicable; it's a felony."
According to the faith-based community organizing group PICO California, the 16 South Americans were approached outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas by representatives of a private contractor who promised them jobs and other assistance. The group was bused from El Paso to New Mexico and then flown to Sacramento, where they were dropped off Friday night outside the city's main Catholic church.
"They were lied to and deceived," PICO campaign director Eddie Carmona told the Associated Press.
\u201cPICO CA ardently condemns the actions that led to 16 of our immigrant brothers & sisters being transported across the country under false pretenses. We are grateful to our Sac community @SacramentoACT for showing up with radical compassion. https://t.co/3mAyDzHde7\u201d— PICO California (@PICO California) 1685836583
Bonta told the Times that "they never intended to help them find a job but told them that they would do that so they could get on the plane and sign their documents and be transported to Sacramento."
"They completely exploited, abused, and manipulated these folks who were vulnerable and were hoping and dreaming of a job and told they would be helped finding that job only to be abandoned," he added.
Cecilia Flores, narrative and communications strategist at the multi-faith advocacy group Sacramento Area Congregations Together, toldKCRA that the migrants are "in shock."
"I think they're very exhausted," she added. "I think they are just trying to catch up with processing exactly what happened."
Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto told the Times that "the urgency to respond was heard by Catholics and people of goodwill."
"We are thankful to our partner organizations who took up the holy work of hospitality, dedicating their time and resources to ensure that every migrant did not feel alone and abandoned," he added.
\u201cAn investigation is underway after over a dozen migrants arrived in Sacramento, CA by private jet with no prior arrangement or care in place and documentation \u201cpurporting to be from the government of the State of Florida."\n\nUsing people as pawns -- again.\nhttps://t.co/YJQj6uqrbf\u201d— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani \ud83d\udd28 (@Rep. Anna V. Eskamani \ud83d\udd28) 1685896011
Bonta and Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newson said Saturday that they met with around a dozen of the affected migrants. Bonta said the California Department of Justice is investigating who paid for their flight and whether any laws were broken.
"While we continue to collect evidence, I want to say this very clearly: State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting," Bonta said in a statement. "We are a nation built by immigrants and we must condemn the cruelty and hateful rhetoric of those, whether they are state leaders or private parties, who refuse to recognize humanity and who turn their backs on extending dignity and care to fellow human beings."
"California and the Sacramento community will welcome these individuals with open arms and provide them with the respect, compassion, and care they will need after such a harrowing experience," he added.
\u201cToday I met with over a dozen migrants who were brought to Sacramento by private plane, with no prior arrangement or care in place.\n\nWe are investigating the circumstances by which these individuals were brought to California.\u201d— Rob Bonta (@Rob Bonta) 1685845344
Democratic Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg also issued a statement Saturday asserting that "human trafficking is not only despicable; it's a felony."
"I urge the appropriate authorities to investigate how 16 vulnerable people were lured to travel from El Paso, Texas, to Sacramento," he added. "Whoever is behind this must answer the following: Is there anything more cruel than using scared human beings to score cheap political points?"
DeSantis, along with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey, Arizona's former GOP governor, have bused or flown more than 12,000 migrants to Democratic-led cities since April to protest what they falsely call the Biden administration's "open border" immigration policies.
Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature has recently authorized $22 million for DeSantis' program of sending migrants to sanctuary states and cities.