Trump Administration Accused of Ignoring U.N. Requests for Access to U.S.-Mexico Border

The American Civil Liberties Union hit out at the Trump administration over its refusal to cooperate with international human rights monitors, including ignoring repeated requests to arrange a formal visit to the U.S.-Mexico border from the U.N. special rapporteur on migrant rights.

"For us, this is of really serious concern because it puts the U.S. squarely in the company of some of the worst human rights abusers around the world," ACLU Director of Human Rights Jamil Dakwar told Newsweek.

Felipe González Morales, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, told Newsweek on Tuesday that he had made two requests, one in March last year and another in December, to the Trump administration asking "to conduct an official visit and prepare a report about the situation of the human rights of migrants in the U.S."

In his December request, González Morales said he cited his concerns over the death of Jakelin Caal, the 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died while in the custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency after crossing into the U.S. from Mexico with her father.

"I got a response to my first letter, which stated that the State Department was consulting with different stakeholders regarding my request," González Morales said. "As for my letter from December, I did not get any response. Nor I have gotten to any of the communications I have sent since mid-last year to the U.S. Government addressing different topics on migration in the U.S."

González Morales also said: "In June last year, I had a meeting with the Permanent Mission of the U.S. in Geneva for this purpose, at which I was told the matter was under study at the State Department." The special rapporteur said that in addition to monitoring the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, a formal visit would also allow him to conduct a review of "all relevant aspects of the human rights of migrants in the U.S., such as the detention of adult and children based on their migratory status, access to justice for migrants, status of investigations about the death of migrants in the U.S., the prospects of [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] and other relevant programs."

In being ignored by the Trump administration, González Morales is far from alone, according to the ACLU. Not only has the U.S. government failed to extend official invitations to any U.N. experts to visit the country since President Donald Trump took office, according to an analysis Dakwar submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, but at least 22 requests from U.N. special rapporteurs have gone ignored by the Trump administration, with the last response from Trump officials having come in May 2018.

In his analysis, Dakwar accused the Trump administration of having "escalated its hostility toward human rights bodies, including the apparent severing of relationships with independent experts appointed to monitor and report on human rights violations."

The U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council last year. Among the ignored requests are repeated appeals from González Morales, the U.N. monitor on the human rights of migrants, to be allowed to make an official visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to address widespread concerns over the treatment of asylum seekers and immigrants.

"The special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has repeatedly asked to visit the United States to report on the serious deterioration of human rights of immigrants, especially on the U.S.-Mexico border, including family separations, expedited deportations, abusive immigration detention, tear gassing of immigrants and asylum seekers, and the undermining of their rights to seek protection and asylum," Dakwar said in his analysis.

For the U.N. special rapporteurs to do their job, Dakwar told Newsweek, they "need an official invitation from the U.S." When it comes to reporting on human rights conditions at the U.S.-Mexico border, González Morales would require the cooperation of the Trump administration to gain access to processing centers and detention facilities run by the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies.

In addition to ignoring requests from González Morales on an issue that Trump has made central throughout his presidency—with the U.S. leader declaring a national emergency over immigration in February in an apparent bid to get his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall built—Dakwar also warned that the U.S. government failed to provide adequate transparency to key treaty bodies that monitor compliance with human rights conventions.

According to Dakwar, the U.S. had not submitted standard periodic reports to both the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which had been requested for November 2017, as well as to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which had been requested for November 2018.

Dakwar also criticized the Trump administration's consideration of a potential plan to defund the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a leading independent human rights body in the Americas, due to what the civil rights organization warned was "pressure from Republican senators who falsely claimed that the Commission has broken U.S. law for engaging in lobbying to promote abortion rights in the region."

The State Department announced on Friday that the U.S. will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel who attempt to investigate or prosecute alleged abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Dakwar told Newsweek the move brings fresh cause for concern about the Trump administration's stance on complying with international human rights standards.

The U.S.'s apparent dismissal of human rights monitors is setting a dangerous example for other countries, Dakwar said, warning that the "escalated hostility" it exhibits toward human rights bodies could "encourage other countries poor human rights records to ignore and violate their international human rights obligations."

In his statement to the U.N., Dakwar called on the Trump administration to "change course and take concrete actions to resume full and meaningful cooperation with all human rights bodies, especially the U.N.'s special procedures, including facilitating official visits to the country."

"We also call on members of the U.N., especially close U.S. allies, to speak up and reject this unprecedented attack on the very global human rights systems, which the United States and other countries created after World War II to protect and promote universal rights and combat impunity," he said. "No country, not even the U.S., should be exempt or immune from international human rights scrutiny."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

President Donald Trump prepares to declare a national emergency over immigration in the Rose Garden at the White House, on February 15. The American Civil Liberties Union hit out at the Trump administration over its refusal to cooperate with international human rights monitors, including ignoring U.N. requests to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

This article has been updated with statements from Felipe González Morales, the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.