October 1, 2008
By Melissa Del Bosque
An international commission on human rights is in Texas today taking a closer look at the border wall and at immigrant detainee rights. Lawyers from the commission are speaking with former detainees from the Hutto immigration facility and other immigration detention facilities. They will also visit Brownsville and other parts of the Rio Grande Valley tomorrow to speak with landowners, lawyers, and UT Brownsville faculty about the border wall.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the commission is appointed by the general assembly of the Organization of the American States. The OAS is an international body, similar to the United Nations, that is comprised of 35 members states from North, Central, South America and the Caribbean. Created in 1959, their headquarters are based in Washington D.C., and in Cost Rica. Every four years, seven international experts on human rights issues from the member states are appointed to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The commission examines and monitors allegations of human rights abuses by its member states, including the United States. The commission has investigated some of the worst human rights abuses in the Americas, including the Plan de Sanchez massacre of 250 villagers in Guatemala, and the murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez.
Denise Gilman, a clinical professor at the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic requested in August that the commission conduct a hearing on human rights abuses and the border wall. The hearing will be held in Washington D.C. on October 22nd. Gilman and others will attend the hearing along with landowners affected by the border wall. The commission will also ask that a high ranking official from Department of Homeland Security attend the hearing.
The UT law clinic and other legal groups also asked the commission to hold a hearing on immigrant detainee rights. The hearing will be held in Washington D.C., on October 28th.
Interestingly, Gilman says commissioners had planned to visit Texas to tour some of the detainee facilities in Raymondville. The State Department, however, told the commissioners that it wanted the name of every detainee they spoke with. “There was concern about reprisals against the detainees,” Gilman says. So commissioners decided they would not visit the facilities and jeopardize detainees. Instead the UT law clinic is setting up interviews between two staff attorneys from the commission and former detainees from the Hutto facility and other detention facilities in Central Texas.
While the commission may not force a change in Homeland Security’s policies toward the border wall and immigration detainee rights, Gilman hopes it can enrich the immigration debate in the United States. “They bring a unique perspective and look at immigration and the border wall issues from a rule of law and compliance with international norms on human rights,” she says.
Ultimately, Gilman hopes that during an increasingly negative election season in which immigration reform has so far not been a major issue, the commission can help inform candidates about immigration and human rights concerns. “I’m hopeful that this might help frame the issue for the next presidential administration,” she says.