Friday, November 14, 2008

That Pesky Vienna Convention Again . . .

Seemingly an unlikely source for human rights advocates, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) sat quietly for over thirty years until creative lawyers used it to attack death penalty sentences in the United States in the Breard, LaGrand, and most recently, Medellin cases. Those cases were unsuccessful in obtaining stays of execution despite the U.S. government's failure to notify consular officials of these foreign nationals' arrest, trial, and sentencing, in violation of the VCCR. (As Diane Amann posted here, the Joint Task Force on Treaties in US Law is currently debating the question of the VCCR's status in U.S. law.) Regardless of the U.S. goverment's willingness to accept responsibility for upholding the treaty, reporting its violations of the VCCR retain at least some shame value.
That's presumably the view held by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a Texas non-profit that yesterday released a report, A Child Alone and Without Papers, on the removal of undocumented unaccompanied children from the United States. In an analysis of the myriad rights violations that the Department of Homeland Security's agents perpetrate against unaccompanied minors (ignoring requests for medical attention, failing to provide food and water, striking and knocking down children), the report notes that Article 37 of the VCCR mandates consular notice where appointment of a guardian appears to be in the interest of a minor. Combined with Article 36, the provision used in the cases noted above that directs officials to notify a detained non-citizen that she can contact her consulate, it would appear that the United States is required to notify relevant consulates of the presence of unaccompanied undocumented minors in immigration detention. Needless to say, DHS officials routinely fail to notify consulates, and instead deport minors to unsafe situations in which they may be prey to traffickers and other abusive situations.
The report recommends various protocols to ensure the safe treatment of undocumented unaccompanied minors in the United States and their safe return to their home country; hopefully the new administration will set up formal structures to protect the rights of these children and uphold our international obligations. It would be a start for DHS agents to recognize that immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, are humans with rights. In the words of Gilberto, a 13-year old Mexican boy, “Don’t treat us like dogs. They treat us like dogs.” 'Nuff said.

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