Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two New Lawsuits Shed Light on Immigrant Injustice in the States

On the same day last week two major non-profit organizations filed suit in the US over fairly shocking circumstances relating to immigrants and refugees. If they win, we could see some excellent new case law on immigrant rights. Here's a quick run-down.

Florida Tuition Inequality
In Ruiz v. Robinson (complaint) the Southern Poverty Law Center is suing the Florida Board of Education for a policy that, according to the suit, "treat[s] United States citizen students who reside in Florida as “non-residents” solely because their parents are undocumented immigrants." The effect of this policy is to hike tuition prices up to out-of-state rates (i.e., triple the cost for residents), and moreover, to discourage children of undocumented immigrants from attending college. Here's an example of the effect of the policy, as seen through plaintiff Caroline Roa:
...After Caroline was accepted to Miami Dade College, school officials informed her that she did not qualify for in-state tuition, even though she had resided in Miami-Dade County since birth. School officials explained to Caroline that her residency for tuition purposes was based on her father’s legal residence. Because Caroline could not show proof of her father’s legal immigration presence in the United States, she could not qualify for in-state tuition rates. Unable to afford non-resident tuition rates, Caroline has not enrolled in college. Instead, she works two jobs in the hope of one day being able to afford college.
Interestingly, the class action suit takes a dual legal track- SPLC challenges the policy under the 14th amendment's equal protection clause, but they also bring a federal preemption claim under the Supremacy Clause. In other words, they argue Florida's attempts to deny residency to the children of undocumented immigrants represents an impermissible attempt to regulate immigration- a field squarely within the exclusive domain of the federal government.

In my opinion, the equal protection argument is a slam dunk- these children are clearly being treated differently then other similarly situated children on the basis of their parent's immigration status... its going to be difficult for Florida to come up with a compelling justification for that which makes logical sense. The federal preemption argument, on the other hand, is a touchy subject. It has been a bumpy road for cases using this claim before, and now more than ever, with so many pending challenges to state statutes regulating immigration in some way, it will be interesting to see how the argument fares. One could suspect this case makes the point clearly, that when states try to regulate immigration they end up doing things that hurt citizens as well as non-citizens.

Sex Abuse in Immigration Detention
The second case is being brought by the ACLU against a Texas corrections facility, workers there, and the ICE for allegations of sexual assault against immigrants detained there. (Oy.) Essentially, the ACLU found hundreds of such allegations after filing a Freedom of Information Act request with ICE and Homeland Security. Although such allegations were found in every state, Texas had by far the most, and is thus the focus of the suit. An example of one of the stories can be found here. (Warning: graphic.)

Even more tragically, the plaintiffs named in the suit were asylum seekers escaping sexual violence in their home countries. It is ridiculous that people have to face this additional hardship in detention centers and it is obviously a violation of their human rights and basic tort law. I think this case will have no problem succeeding, but it remains to be seen how to protect the thousands of immigrants in custody all over the US from such horror. One way may be a legislative angle- extending the Prison Rape Elimination Act to immigrant detainees. The Act, passed by President Bush in 2003, establishes a national commission to prevent prison rape, assists with data sharing, and makes prevention a major priority for each prison system-- except for in immigration detention.

Here is a petition from the ACLU to President Obama asking them, as a first step, to extend the Prison Rape Elimination Act to all prisoners in the US: "President Obama: Protect Women Held in US Custody from Rampant Sexual Abuse"

What these two cases have in common is that they focus on rather non-contentious ways of preventing discrimination against immigrants. After all, the first case actually focuses on US citizens (though it arguably helps their undocumented parents), and the second reiterates a minimum standard for detention that should not even really be at issue, bodily integrity. There are much deeper problems facing the  American immigration system at the moment, but these two cases will hopefully be big wins that pave the way for more aggressive strategies in the fight to protect undocumented immigrants.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Retroactive Denationalization of Haitians in Dominican Republic

Haitian men sell hats in a Dominican Market -Photo by Dominic Arizona Bonucceli
Between dictators, natural disasters and crushing poverty, life in Haiti has been incredibly rough for years. (Maybe even the last 400 years or so, but you can ask France about that.)  So its no surprise that the country sees a number of migrants leave its borders seeking a better life. Perhaps no country is more aware of this than neighboring Dominican Republic, home to a large Haitian migrant community as well as to a significant population of people of Haitian descent. Now, in an effort to cut down on illegal immigration, the Dominican Republic has taken drastic measures that have rendered many from this population effectively stateless.

The border between the two countries is very porous, and for decades there has been significant labor migration from Haiti to Dominican Republic (often legally and by invitation). There was seasonal migration between to the two countries, particularly for seasonal sugar-cane workers, but many other families in the last century have settled permanently in the DR. These families benefitted from a generous nationality acquisition policy: descendents were entitled to citizenship based on jus soli, i.e., being born on the territory made them Dominican citizens. However, in January 2010 there was a change to the Dominican constitution that effectively put a grandfather clause on citizenship.
Article 18: Nationality. They are citizens:
...(3) Persons born on natural territory, with the exception of sons and daughters of foreign members of diplomatic or consular services, foreigners that are in transit or reside illegally in Dominican territory. They are considered in transit all foreigners as defined in the laws of the Republic. (Translation mine.)
Now, in order to take advantage of D.R.'s jus soli territorial citizenship, one must not only be born in the country, but also born to legally residing Dominican parents. The effect was to instantly render up to 1 million people stateless, including many whom are 3rd and 4th generation Dominican residents.

Understandably given the magnitude of the population, this policy has been difficult to implement in practice. After all, many of Haitian descent already have identity documents, were registered at birth, and until this time considered themselves Dominican citizens. The government now seems to be using piecemeal tactics to denationalize- denial of document renewal, refusal to issue copies of birth certificates, erasure from civil registries, and other insidious means to take rights away from people of Haitian descent. 

But although the tactics are sporadic, Haitian-Dominicans are feeling the effects. Without access to documents they have limited freedom of movement, can't attend to college, drive, or marry. In short, they are deprived of the right to a legal personality.

There has been a recent upswing in attention to this issue. In fact, today there is a brief hearing on the subject at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with appearances by the government and representatives of NGO's. In a few days there will be a conference at Georgetown University on the same subject. Also there will apparently  be a conference at the end of the year in concert with UNHCR aimed at reducing statelessness. However, where I'm standing, this case is very similar to Kuric (the civil registry erasure case) and is ripe for litigation under any number of international legal documents which the Dominican Republic is clearly and wantonly violating.

Here is the 2010 Constitution of the Dominican Republic (in spanish): Consitution de la Republica Dominicana
Here's a very enlightening PBS video on the subject: In Dominican Republic, Haitians Grapple with Stateless Limbo
***Update: Here is the press release from the State Dept. after the event at Georgetown University: Statelessness and the Dominican Republic

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

UNHCR Report: Trends for the first half of 2011

Serbian asylum seekers, via Serbian Herald
Today UNHCR released a report detailing asylum trends in 44 countries for the first half of 2011. It by no means offers a complete picture, given that it basically covers the Council of Europe plus a handful of other industrialized countries, but it is still packed with interesting findings. Among them:
  • Asylum applications are up overall by 17%, with the large majority (73%) being filed in Europe, but the USA accounting for the one single country receiving the most applications.
  • Asylum trends are not consistent over Europe, with applications down by 27% in the Nordic region (Danish immigration crackdown, anyone?) and asylum claims jumping by 57% in Southern Europe, especially in Turkey, Malta and Italy.
  • Afghanistan leads asylum seeker sending states, followed by China, Serbia (incl. Kosovo), Iraq and Iran.
  • The next 5 biggest sending states are Russia, Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Nigeria
  • The top 5 receiving countries; USA, France, Germany, Sweden and the UK, received 53% of all the applications.
There are plenty of interesting findings within the report, but to me there are two big take-aways. First, "Arab Spring" didn't have the tremendous overall impact that one would expect- none of those countries involved made it into the top 10 asylum-seeker sending states, at least not for industrialized countries. On the other hand, Southern Europe's big jump in applications are partially attributable to Tunisia and Libya, which adds verification to the region's reputation as Europe's gatekeeper, and perhaps explains the upswing in anti-migrant violence we saw in Italy earlier this year.

The second interesting fact is Serbia's continued presence in the top 5 asylum-sending countries. Keeping in mind that Serbia has just been given the go-ahead for EU Applicant status, possibly to be agreed upon as soon as December, one can only hope that this will increase scrutiny of Serbia's human rights situation. Especially when it comes to the Roma, whom for my money probably make up the majority of asylum seekers.

You can read the whole report here:  Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialized Countries

Monday, October 17, 2011

Non-Citizen News Roundup

Map showing border enclaves, via The Economist
 India/ Bangladesh: People living on the border region's "enclaves" have been stateless and living in destitute poverty for nearly 60 years, but have seen their living conditions deteriorate even further as river waters rise and engulf their villages. Now, villagers from both sides are protesting to ask the government to implement a border enclaves exchange that will swap territories and make it possible for people to gain citizenship and access to basic public services.
People Stateless at India-Bangladesh border (with video) (via IBN)
Border Agreements- The End of the Enclaves  (via The Economist)

 Australia: Everyone is still miffed about the abandoned Malaysian Refugee Swap solution. The public is angry about the alleged $4.6 million in preaparatory costs for the plan. Tbe Prime Minister isn't thrilled about leaks about the plan from the cabinet making its way to the media. And would-be refugees are probably pissed that the shelving of the deal also means an additional 1000 yearly spots for refugees in Australia are off the table. In sum, what a disaster.
 Government defends cost of Malaysia Solution (via ABC Sydney)
 PM Guillard warns against cabinet leaks (via Sydney Morning Herald)

California: Governor Jerry Brown signs in a new package of laws aimed at helping undocumented migrants. Most importantly, he signed a state-version of the DREAM Act that makes it possible for undocumented students to apply for student aid. As the NY Times puts it,  "With these new laws, California is telling immigrants not to stay hidden but to get educated and keep working hard." What a contrast to the message being sent in Alabama.
Brown Signs California Dream Act (via LA Times)
A Sensible Path in California (via NY Times)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Nubians in Kenya- New Case on Birth Registration

Nubian family, ca. 1940, via Nubians in Kenya

There has recently been a very interesting case to come out of Africa that deals with the persistent refusal of the Kenyan government to recognize the nationality of a minority group that has been present in the country for almost a century. The case, Nubian Minors v. Kenya, was brought to the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) by the Institute for  Human Rights and Development in Africa along with the Open Society Justice Initiative. The ACERWC is an institution that deals with interpreting and deciding on issues related the OAU's African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Africa's answer to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Like the CRC, the African Charter provides explicit nationality and legal personality rights for children. Article 6 requires that every child is entitled to a name, a nationality, and birth registration. Further, children who would otherwise be stateless are entitled to the nationality of the country in which they are born. The Nubian Minors case was brought under these provisions, along with the non-discrimination clause and several other collateral clauses.
Nubians from KAR

The Facts
The story of the Nubians of Kenya is old and interesting. Apparently, this group came from the Nuba mountains in present-day Sudan, and were forcibly conscripted by the British in the 19th century into the King's African Rifles. After service, they requested to be sent back to Sudan, but were instead allocated land in Kenya, namely, Kibera, right outside of present-day Nairobi. Next best thing, right? Wrong.

Now here is the tricky part: having been moved to Kenya, most of these people held no Kenyan citizenship. The British also refused to grant citizenship. At the time of Kenyan independence, in 1963, nothing about the Nubians was settled- they were still considered aliens by the government, who also refused to recognize Nubian title to the Kibera settlement. To make matters worse, these status problems were passed by the Nubian Kenyans down to their children. It is allegedly difficult in Kenya to register children in the absence of the parent's identity documents (which as we know, many people of Nubian descent do not possess.) And other human rights organizations have noted discriminatory practices in birth registration, such as refusing to issue a birth certificate. Further, children in Kenya do not receive proof of citizenship until the age of 18, at which point many children of Nubian descent find the fairly straight-forward procedure to verfiy their nationality complicated by discriminatory procedural barriers and delays. The result? Generations of legally invisible and de facto stateless people.

The Case
After considerable efforts to obtain remedies at the state level (see section 15-22 of the Decision) the applicants were able to have the case heard on the merits. The first issue the Court considered is whether the ACRWC grants citizenship from birth. While the reading of art. 6(1) doesn't provide a right from birth, taking into consideration the best interests of the child principle, this is a logical reading. Further, statelessness is particularly devastating for children.
Whatever the root cause(s), the African Committee cannot overemphasise the overall negative impact of statelessness on children. While it is always no fault of their own, stateless children often inherits an uncertain future. For instance, they might fail to benefit from protections and constitutional rights granted by the State. These include difficulty to travel freely, difficulty in accessing justice procedures when necessary, as well as the challenge of finding oneself in a legal limbo vulnerable to expulsion from their home country. Statelessness is particularly devastating to children in the realisation of their socio-economic rights such as access to health care, and access to education. In sum, being stateless as a child is generally antithesis to the best interests of children. (at 46)
 Having said that, the Committee considered several possible arguments by Kenya. First, the fact that some Kenyans of Nubian descent had acquired citizenship through the normal legal procedure. The Committee considered that this did not destroy the central argument, that a significant portion had not, which would be enough to violate their obligation. Second, Kenya could have argued that the Nubian children may be entitled to Sudanese citizenship. In this case, the Committee responded, the government could have tried to cooperate with Sudan to facilitate such granting of nationality, but there was no evidence that they had done so (at 51). In sum, they had violated their obligation to provide children with nationality, birth registration, and to help them avoid statelessness, all in violation of the key provisions of Article 6.

As to the discrimination claim under ACRWC art. 3, the Court found prima facie discrimination. The government's absence made it impossible for them to meet the burden of proof with evidence that the discrimination served a legitimate end, however the Court looked for explanations, and in the end relied on findings by the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, that  
“the process of vetting… Nubians… is discriminatory and violates the principle of equal treatment. Such a practice has no place in a democratic and pluralistic society” (at 56)
 In the subsequent paragraphs the Court found that these violations also deprived the Kenyan children on Nubian descent of their right to health and their right to education. In other words, positive findings on all fronts for the applicants.

Follow Up
Of course, it remains to be seen what the impact of the case will actually be on affected communities. Kenya was instructed to come up with an implementation plan, which would have to include some legal mechanisms to register extant stateless minor  Nubians as Kenyan, as well as a method of birth registration and subsequent acquiring of citizenship that is non-discriminatory and functioning.

In the meantime, lawyers have some excellent new case-law. This case speaks to, specifically:
  • the fact that statelessness is not "in the best interests of the child"
  • the link between birth registration and preventing statelessness
  • the impact of statelessness and legal invisibility on the ability of a child to access his health and education rights
  • additional barriers to birth registration and citizenship on the basis of ethnicity/ origin of parents can constitute discrimination.
All in all a big win, and a situation that lawyers interested in statelessness and legal invisibility will definitely want to keep an eye on.

You can read more on the case here: Open Society Justice Initiatives- Nubian Minors v. Kenya
And for a cool multi-media website on Kenya's Nubians, check out this online exhibit by Greg Constantine: Kenya's Nubians- Then and Now

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alabama Latinos protest "Juan Crow" Immigration Law

Scenes from an protest in June, photo by Mark Almond/ The Birmingham News
Good news out of Alabama today, as Latinos across the state stay home from work as a show of solidarity against the dreadful, recently upheld immigration law (HB-56). The law, which is likely the most punitive in the country, requires a number of harsh measures aimed at making the state as uncomfortable as possible for undocumented migrants. As its written the law has provisions that make it a crime to transport undocumented immigrants (because you can tell, just by looking at them) and makes it illegal for colleges to enroll undcocumented students (because, once again, university admission counselors are perfectly equipped to make immigration status determinations.)  Most importantly, the law requires police to verify immigration status during many routine encounters, such as traffic stops. Not only that, but in a move that brazenly violates federal jurisprudence, the law requires schools to verify immigration status while enrolling children. The effect of these measures is to encourage police harassment of Latinos, to cause children to stay home from school, and to reduce an entire segment of the population to living in fear and uncertainty.

That's why its very encouraging to see Latinos across the state- both documented and undocumented- staying home from work to peacefully protest.
"We want the mayor, the governor, this judge to know we are part of the economy of Alabama," said Mexican immigrant Mireya Bonilla.
Its important to note here that even US citizens are participating in this protest, according to reports. Given the nature of immigration status, it is more than clear that a law that provides for measures against people "suspected of being illegal" is code-wording for  Latino. State governments need to know that when they pass laws that broadly encourage racial profiling and discrimination against Latinos, that the legally-present won't keep silent so as not to be lumped in with the undocumented.

CBS News: Hispanics Skip Work to Protest Immigration Law
The Birmingham News: Looking at the Human Side of Alabama's Immigration Law

Sweden: Refoulement of Kurds to Iran?

According to, 20 Kurdish refugees have sewed their mouths shut in Sergels torg while facing imminent deportation to Iran.

With their lives on the line, the asylum seekers -- all of whom are documented refugees with the United Nations -- have taken the extraordinary step of going on a hunger strike to protest their deportation. Several of them have been hospitalized after collapsing from hunger. Those remaining have sewn their mouths shut.

This isn't the first time that Sweden has been in the limelight for  deportation of Kurds. Last January UNHCR spoke out against the deportation of Iraqi Kurds back to some of the most dangerous regions in Iraq, and stated that they most likely should have been covered by the Refugee Convention or the Qualifications Directive.

Now there is a petition to the Swedish Migration Board to save these Iranian Kurds from being deported, and it already has more than 36,000 signatures. You can add yours here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Non-Citizen News Round Up

Photo by Sandy Huffaker for the NY Times
US: Programs aimed at helping settled refugees to start their own farms are gaining traction across the country, as well as making farmer's market offerings more diverse.
When the Uprooted Put Down Roots (via the NY Times)

Australia: UNHCR endorses the controversial Malaysian refugee swap deal? According to this article, the High Commissioner feels refugees are better off in Malaysia, where at least they can work.
Australia's Malaysia Refugee Swap Deal Gets Support from UNHCR (via All Headlines News)

Cuba: Numbers of emigrants going up, likely due to stalling economy
Number of Cuban Migrants Has Surged in 2011 (via Miami Herald)

Mozambique: UNHCR will follow up last years program of mapping and documenting statelessness with a program this year to register Mozambique-born stateless persons. An estimated 2 million people are at risk.
UNHCR to Support Registration of Stateless People (via All Africa Global Media)

Norway: As "paperless" youth gain increased intention in Norway, some are calling for the revival of the Nansen Passport.
Effort Grows to Revive Nansen Passport (via Norway International Network)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ryan Gosling on immigration...

Like this shoutout to Margot Canady, via  Jezebel.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Human Rights Watch on Immigrant Injustice in the US

Grace Meng, a researcher from Human Rights Watch, has a great commentary today about the decline in living conditions for undocumented immigrants in the United States.
We already know that the conditions in states that have passed punitive immigration laws (eg: Alabama) have deteriorated significantly, but Meng points out that the Obama administration's stance has the ICE tormenting undocumented people all over the country.
Undocumented immigrants have long been afraid of government officials, but that fear is now translating into a fear of the justice system. Immigrants avoid going to court in communities from Fresno to Rochester, even to pay traffic tickets or to help a family member with translation, because Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents like to hang out by the courthouse. In North Carolina, a victim of domestic violence told me she would never again call the police for help after being questioned more about her immigration status than her safety the first time she called.
Naturally, this fear is likely to continue until Congress passes some form of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. In the meantime, we will have to hope that SCOTUS gets its hands on the Alabama law or one like it and strikes down punitive laws like this for good.