Amnesty group accuses U.S. of intimidating migrants' supporters

By Marielena Castellanos
Amnesty International maintains that the Trump administration is conducting a campaign of threats and intimidation against anyone who stands up for migrants' rights. File photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI
1 of 3 | Amnesty International maintains that the Trump administration is conducting a campaign of threats and intimidation against anyone who stands up for migrants' rights. File photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

SAN DIEGO, July 2 (UPI) -- Just days before the United States celebrates freedom and independence, Amnesty International released a report accusing the Trump administration of executing an unlawful and politically motivated campaign of intimidation, threats and even criminal investigations against anyone defending the rights of migrants and refugees.

"What is happening with these people, these brave human rights defenders, is they are facing violence in many different ways by the United States government," said Erika Guevara Rosas, director for the Americas at Amnesty International, during a press conference outside the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California.


"They are harassed and criminalized as a way to silence the work they are doing, the human rights protections and support they are providing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers," she said.

The report said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice have accused and investigated human rights defenders for alleged crimes including conspiracy, fraud and harboring and smuggling of migrants and asylum seekers.


"They are being harassed, [which is] politically motivated by the Trump administration precisely because they are replacing the work that the government should be doing," Guevara Rosas said.

"The United States government is collaborating with the Mexican government to continue the harassment even when [human rights defenders] cross the border to provide the support that the Mexican government hasn't been willing or able to provide asylum seekers, refugees and migrants."

Earlier this year, media reports surfaced about an effort to gather intelligence by the U.S. government and Mexico that targeted immigration advocates, journalists and a lawyer.

New problems

Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director for the non-governmental organization, Al Otro Lado, which provides services for migrants, said she never had a problem crossing the border until after 2017, as more refugees were turned away from entering the United States and the organization increased its efforts to help migrants.

Pinheiro said at one point, she was detained for hours by the Mexican government while crossing through the Mexican port of entry in San Ysidro. Her attorney has told her she might continue to have problems when she crosses the border even though she has all the legal documents to make such crossings.


"It's been very frightening. I'm afraid they will stop me without justification," Pinheiro said.

Hugo Castro, a humanitarian activist for 17 years and director of Border Angels in Baja California, an organization that provides humanitarian aid, said he has been stopped several times often has been sent to secondary inspection for hours when he crosses at ports of entry that include San Ysidro, Otay and Calexico in California.

"It was hard for me, but it's harder right now for everybody who is being targeted by a government that doesn't respect the dignity in having or lacking a piece of paper. It's very hard to understand that we are trying to decrease the suffering and the deaths along the border. We work both sides of the border with victims of forced migrations, they are not criminals," Castro said.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said immigration raids will begin after the Fourth of July holiday, after canceling them nearly two weeks ago. His announcement came as he signed a bill providing $4.6 billion in funding for humanitarian aid, but some Democrats said the bill did not have critical protections for migrants.

The Amnesty International report also came on the same day federal prosecutors announced that Scott Warren, a humanitarian activist, would be retried on two counts of harboring migrants.


Warren was arrested last year. He was a volunteer for a faith-based group that provides water, medical aid and food to migrants attempting to journey through Arizona's deserts.

Requests ignored

Brian Griffey, the regional researcher with Amnesty International, said the group has sought meetings with Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Attorney's Office and a field office of U.S. Customs Border Protection, but they had not responded to meeting requests. A request for comment from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was not immediately returned.

Griffey noted representatives from his group had met a day before the press conference with Mexican immigration officials, who also practice activities criticized in the report.

"Even then, one of the most alarming things that came from this meeting in the afternoon, when we presented an advance copy of this report, was their continuing efforts to criminalize the migrants and human rights defenders who have been subjected to this unlawful surveillance program," Griffey said.

The report also provides a number of recommendations for Congress, Mexico and several U.S. government departments. Among the suggestions are holding public congressional hearings, halting intimidation of humanitarian aid volunteers and initiating an investigation by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General to determine whether DOJ brought criminal charges against human rights defenders in violation of their protected views and speech.


Griffey said that under the current provisions being applied by the U.S. government, people can be prosecuted for encouraging someone to enter the country even if they never cross into the United States -- even giving a migrant a ride to the border.

"Is that the world you want to live in, where you're not allowed to tell people what their human rights are, at a time when people's human rights are being denied? I think not," Griffey said.

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