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October 23, 2020

Pressley, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar Lead Call for International Investigation Into Alleged DHS Human Rights Abuses

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) sent a letter to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and 14 UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council calling for the organizations to launch independent investigations into the recent, ongoing, and credible allegations of egregious human rights abuses committed by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its components, and its private contractors.   

The letter comes just over a month after initial reports of an ICE-contracted center in Georgia performing a staggering number unnecessary surgeries—including partial or full hysterectomies and other unnecessary and unwanted gynecological procedures—on immigrant women without their consent. The Inspector General of DHS has since opened an investigation into the allegations, but for Pressley, Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, the United States’ long and shameful history of forcibly sterilizing incarcerated women and the numerous allegations of human rights abuses already leveled against the agency—some of which are outlined in their letter—point to the need to demand an independent investigation.

“These allegations illustrate a clear pattern of alleged human rights violations by DHS. This pattern of behavior is perpetuated and encouraged by the consistent and unforgivable failure of the United States government and its institutions to take these allegations seriously by investigating them in a transparent, thorough, and impartial manner,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “As representatives of the American people, it is our firm desire to engage our domestic institutions in a full and unrelenting effort to investigate these and other claims of human rights violations by this department.”

“All countries, regardless of size, power, or international standing must respect the human rights of all people and the United States is no exception. 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 lawmakers continued.

“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 Donald Trump knows no bounds,” said Congresswoman Pressley in a statement alongside the letter. “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.”

“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,” Congresswoman Tlaib said. “That they have now been accused of literally removing immigrant women’s wombs is perhaps the most egregious yet. 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. To achieve justice we must demand external, independent investigations by the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I am proud to join my sisters in service in this long overdue, bold call for action some may think a bridge too far but is in fact needed.”

“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,” Congresswoman 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. As we would with human rights abuses in another country, we must call on the UN  High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to launch independent investigations. We must hold all who were involved in these wanton human rights abuses fully accountable.”

Joining the Congresswomen in support of their call for a UN investigation are Reps. Mark Pocan (WI-2), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), and Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), who cosigned the letters the Congresswomen sent, as well as 53 organizations, including Project South and the Government Accountability Project, both of which represent the whistleblower who brought the allegations of forced gynecological procedures at the Georgia facility to light.

Other supporting groups are: National Lawyers Guild; Human Rights Watch; Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund; Northwest Immigrants’ Rights Project; Win Without War; Center for Victim of Torture; Physicians for Human Rights; Women’s Refugee Commission; University Network for Human Rights; Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale University; Global Human Rights Clinic, University of Chicago Law School; Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law (The views of NYU’s law clinics do not represent the institutional views, if any, of the university); Center for International Human Rights, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, University of California Hastings College of the Law; Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law; University of Southern California International Human Rights Clinic; Emory University Institute of Human Rights; Center for Security, Race and Rights, Rutgers Law School; Michigan Immigrant Rights Center; Meta Peace Team; Michigan Coalition for Human Rights; Michigan United; One Michigan for Immigrant Rights; 1 Michigan for the Global Majority; Detention Watch Network; National Iranian American Council Action; Academics Stand Against Poverty; National Lawyers Guild International Committee; National Religious Campaign Against Torture; National Immigration Litigation Alliance; Demand Progress Education Fund; Fellowship For Reconciliation; No More Guantanamos; Witness at the Border; Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention; National Immigrant Justice Center; LatinoJustice PRLDEF; Mariposa Legal, Program of COMMON Foundation; Social Justice Committee of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church; Freedom for Immigrants; Jewish Voice for Peace, Atlanta Chapter; Society for Asylum and Immigration Law (SAIL’s endorsement does not necessarily reflect the views of DePaul University College of Law or of DePaul University), DePaul University College of Law; Protimos; Defending Rights & Dissent; Restore the Fourth; Migrant Justice//Justicia Migrante; AWTAD Anti-Corruption Organization; Vermont Human Rights Commission; Shadow World Investigations; Corruption Kills; and Poligon Education Fund.

“We commend Representative Tlaib for taking this necessary step,” Project South Legal & Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani said. “It is high time for DHS and ICE to have their reckoning. We demand and expect an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation by the United Nations to ultimately result in redress for the countless immigrants and family members who have suffered at the hands of ICE and the private prison corporations that have profited from their detention and abuse.”

“Our organization represents Dawn Wooten, and 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,” Government Accountability Project Staff Attorney and International Program Deputy Director Samantha Feinstein said. “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. We applaud the calls by members of Congress for the United Nations to investigate the human rights violations revealed by whistleblowers, whose disclosure are essential to ensuring that fundamental human rights are enforced.”

The full text of the letters can be read here.

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