An inter-disciplinary group of professors and students from the Rappaport Center for Human Rights and Justice at The University of Texas at Austin argued before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the border wall violates the human rights of border residents. Luz Patricia Mejia (Venezuela), Vice-President of IACHR, moderated the session, granting twenty minutes to the Working Group, twenty minutes to U.S. government representatives, and twenty minutes for questions and answers. This meant that all of the presentations were concise– though backed with full legal briefs and documentation. Indeed, the IACH had a full agenda, including ten hearings on a variety of topics in two rooms on October 22 alone.
The IACHR, along with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, are independent wings of the Organization of American States charged with protecting human rights in the Americas. The mandate of the IACHR is founded on the American Convention on Human Rights that has been ratified by 25 countries in the Americas. (The United States did not ratify it.) The United States, however, does participate in the IACHR, but our nation is not bound by the ruling of the Inter-American Court. Thus, while the IACHR might find that the border wall violates human rights it is not clear that this ruling will impact US policy.
Denise Gilman, a professor at the University of Texas Law Clinic, outlined the human rights that the border wall violates:
–Rights to Freedom of Expression and Investigation
Jeff Wilson, Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas-Brownsville, presented demographic data to demonstrate that the border wall disproportionately impact marginalized populations. Margo Tamez, a writer and Lipan Apache activist whose family owns land that will be bisected by the border wall, movingly introduced her testimony in Lipan Apache and spoke eloquently on how the border wall violates indigenous rights.
The fact that opponents of the border wall testified before the IACHR demonstrates the lack of consultation and openness in negotiations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). According to their guidelines, all “means of remedying the situation domestically” must be exhausted before the IACHR will hear a case.
In her presentation, Denise Gilman summarized various failed attempts by elected officials, local landowners, citizens, and activist groups to negotiate with DHS.
As a publicity event, the IACHR hearing on the border wall garnered minimal coverage. A Lexus-Nexus search generated a handful of citations on the IACHR hearings. Beyond raising a small amount of publicity, the hearings–especially if the IACHR finds that the border wall violates human rights–will enrich debate about immigration issues. Melissa del Bosque, a reporter for the Texas Observer, explains:
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.”
Posted October 28, 200