Human Rights Case Study: Mexican and Central American Migrants at the U.S./Mexico Border

According to article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United Nations in 1948, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Human rights across the globe have been distinguished in order to establish a global standard for the treatment of human beings. The United States, in approaching the Central American migrant crisis of the mid-2010s, has violated international human rights agreements made in the 1940s as they relate to asylum, detention, and the right to a fair trial.

Opinions have been mixed regarding the detention, removal, and harm done to Mexican and Central American migrants along the southern border. As some along the political left aim for aid to these countries, those along the right focus primarily on the removal of undocumented people. This case study analysis will delve into the details of human rights abuses committed by the state, particularly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in their detention and deportation of migrants.

Some of the key problems discussed in case studies on human rights stem from a lack of resources and funding within the U.S. The most common atrocities committed by the United States’ Department of Homeland Security include inhumane punishment, equal rights, unlawful detention, asylum, and education. These issues will be discussed in depth in the section regarding the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights.

The United States has committed human rights abuses against migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These abuses have been carried out by means of execution and deportation without trial, unfair trials, and violation of international law and treaties.

As the countries in question- Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador- were once colonies of the Spanish empire, much of their economies were dependent upon their colonizers. Once these countries won their fights for independence, their economies, and subsequently their governments, were unstable.

With American intervention and imperialism taking place for economic gain, and much of their resources handed over to multinational corporations, Mexico and the Northern Triangle were further weakened during the twentieth century. Additionally, with the War on Drugs and countless Civil Wars in this era, migration to the United States from the Northern Triangle increased tremendously. However, with the allowance of undocumented immigrants to be granted citizenship and asylum during this time period, the influx was not politicized to the same extent as it is currently.

Following the September 11th terrorist attacks and the subsequent creation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the movement of immigration issues from the Department of Labor to the Department of Homeland Security, the issue of migration has become increasingly militarized. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has partnered and contracted out detention with private companies across the nation. With these changes to government oversight and organization, as well as the increased politicization of immigration, human rights abuses are increasing as the treatment of migrants decreases in humanity.

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified on December 10, 1948, at the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. According to the United Nations, the document was written and collaborated upon “as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations” following the Second World War. The declaration makes claim to thirty universal rights, including ones in reference to detention, asylum, and children’s rights. Over the course of the past five years, the rights declared by the United Nations in 1948 have been abused in relation to unfair trials, wrongful and inhumane punishment, and denial of asylum.

As migrants are detained and set for trial in the United States, the United States Department of Justice has refused the rights guaranteed both by the U.S. Constitution and the UN Declaration. The articles amongst those trampled over were articles six, seven, ten, eleven, and thirty. For the purposes of this paper, articles seven, ten, and eleven will be discussed. Article seven states that “all are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination” in saying all, the Declaration is not exclusive to people without citizenship. As illustrated by a report conducted by Human Rights Watch, racial disparities in immigration raids and neighborhood policing were evident throughout the United States, immigration officials repeatedly targeting Latinxs, such as Mexican and Central American migrants. As article ten states, “everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal”, as well as article eleven in stating the right to “be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial”. However, with the adoption of ‘mass trials’ in states with heavy immigrant populations such as California and Texas, the right to a fair and equal trial by jury has not been granted. Before the court of law, undocumented and unauthorized migrants and asylum seekers have not been granted equal constitutional and international rights.

The system of punishment established for migrants coming across the southern border is also greatly flawed when it comes to the protection and upholding of international human rights law. For the purpose of simplicity, only articles five, nine, and twenty-five will be discussed. The UN outlined in their declaration, article five, “no one shall be subjected to… cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. As exposed in numerous reports upon visits to the United States immigration detention centers, the United States is not exceeding in human rights recognition. As stated by article nine, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. However, as illustrated by a recent Vox report, immigrants and asylum are at a higher risk for arbitrary detention and disappearance. Finally, as expressed in the twenty-fifth article, people are to be granted “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services”. Across different non-partisan and non-governmental groups, human rights have been abused and refused by the United States, particularly the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

Upon the issue of asylum, as of late, the United States has scrapped the ideas agreed upon traditionally and internationally. Though specifically, asylum is only mentioned twice in the United Nations declaration, only once directly, asylum is one of the most important rights guaranteed to people across the globe. Articles two and fourteen detail the asylum requirements countries must uphold, with the United States violating article two in discriminating against asylum seekers based upon country of origin and religion. Additionally, with the rise of the United States’ “Remain in Mexico” policy of requiring migrants to seek asylum in another country prior to their arrival in the U.S., Amnesty International has called for the US authorities to halt the action immediately, believing it “falls short of US obligations under international and national law”. As a whole, most non-government affiliated organizations have denounced the recent “Remain in Mexico” policy.

In conclusion, the United States has repeatedly and diversely committed human rights abuses along the U.S./Mexico border towards Mexican and Central American migrants and asylum seekers. However, with humane immigration reform and a greater understanding of the plights of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle, particularly gang violence and government corruption, the U.S. government would be better equipped to handle the current influx of migrants and asylum seekers in a humane and responsible manner. Though many have proposed solutions, including increased funding for the Department of Homeland Security, physical barriers along the border, “deterrents” such as family separation, these propositions perpetuate human rights abuses.