US 2016 Committee Against Torture- Immigrants

The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a list of issues report for the 59th Session of the Committee against Torture. The report addresses the United States’ failure to uphold Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), its growing reliance on expedited removal procedures and streamlined criminal prosecution programs, and its continued use of inhuman and degrading immigration detention facilities.

The United States’ expedited removal procedures and streamlined criminal prosecution programs risk returning people to countries where they reasonably believe they may be in danger of torture or persecution in violation of Article 3. These summary procedures also fail to ensure migrants have access to counsel, fully understand their rights, and receive a fair trial. 

The United States also imposes a higher evidentiary bar for protection claims than Article 3 allows, in violation of the CAT. In the United States, migrants are required to show they are “more likely than not” to be persecuted or tortured if they are returned, while Article 3 requires migrants demonstrate “there are substantial grounds for believing that [they] would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” The United States also applies a higher standard regarding government involvement in torture, and therefore fails to protect some people from torture by non-state actors. In addition, the United States allows migrants to be removed to third countries without adequate guarantees that the migrants will not be returned to the country where they fear torture.

 Immigration detention conditions in the United States result in cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment for thousands of individuals. There have been reports of human rights violations in  short-term custody facilities run by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and in detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The United States’ continued detention of asylum-seeker mothers and children in prison-like facilities, violates international human rights standards and federal laws for the detention of children. In addition, authorities often restrict or completely deny access to  phone privileges, legal counsel, and recreational time. Other reports reveal degrading food and water conditions, and a failure to provide religious and medical services. Human rights organizations have also documented incidents of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment across the ICE detention system. Facilities are not subject to sufficient independent monitoring and appear to face no penalties for violating standards of detention. In addition, recently proposed rules would exempt immigration detention facilities from the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Moreover, the United States continues to permit the routine use of solitary confinement. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the use of solitary confinement for more than 14 days amounts to torture. Recent U.S. policy guidelines regarding the use of solitary confinement promised more oversight but are still not in line with UN guidance. Moreover, guidelines are not legally enforceable and do not provide for effective remedial action against facilities or officers who violate them.

The report recommends the Committee pose several questions to the government of the United States, including:

  • What specific steps has the United States taken to ensure that protection claims under Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture and Article 33 of the Refugee Convention can be raised for individuals facing: (1) expedited removal at arrival; (2) reinstatement of prior removal orders; (3) expedited removal of persons convicted of aggravated felonies; and (4) and stipulated removal?
  •  Please provide specific information about how access to counsel is provided to all persons detained on civil immigration charges, including persons detained by Customs and Border Protection in short-term detention facilities and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What specific measures does the United States take to ensure that private prison companies do not interfere with the right to counsel for persons held in their custody?
  • Please provide the number of persons held in solitary confinement while detained in immigration custody, including the average number of days people are held in solitary confinement. Please include information about persons held under “administrative segregation,” “disciplinary segregation,” or other similar status.
  • Please provide information about the number of reports of sexual violence which have been received from persons held in immigration custody. How many complaints have resulted in investigation, discipline, or criminal charges? Please describe the steps the United States has taken to ensure that victims provided with appropriate services for survivors of sexual assault, including certification as crime victims for purposes of U-nonimmigrant status in the United States.