International Human Rights Law Clinic

In an era of rapid change caused by rising global interdependence, the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the UC Berkeley School of Law pursues a dual mission: promoting justice at home and abroad and training attorneys for a changing profession. IHRLC marshals the resources of the faculty and students of UC Berkeley to advance the struggle for human rights on behalf of individuals and marginalized communities. It clarifies complex issues, develops innovative policy solutions, and engages in vigorous advocacy. At the same time, IHRLC prepares graduates for an increasingly diverse, competitive, and international legal profession. One of the leading human rights clinics in the country, IHRLC takes advantage of its home in California, the largest and most diverse state in the nation, and builds on Berkeley Law’s commitment to international engagement. Since 1998, IHRLC has completed dozens of projects and trained over 200 students. Learn about the latest clinic news below or read our publications.


Clinic Files Petition Claiming Human Rights Abuses by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Berkeley Law legal advocates in Washington, DC. From From left to right: Aaron Voit ’17, Amanda Barrow ’16 , Andrea Guerrero ’99, Bernardo Hernandez Rojas, Roxanna Altholz ‘99, Kelsey Quigley ‘17, Jessica Oliva ‘16

Berkeley Law legal advocates in Washington, DC. From From left to right: Aaron Voit ’17, Amanda Barrow ’16 , Andrea Guerrero ’99, Bernardo Hernandez Rojas, Roxanna Altholz ‘99, Kelsey Quigley ‘17, and Jessica Oliva ‘16.

By Susan Gluss

March 30, 2016–A nearly six-year legal battle for justice took a new turn today (March 30) as the International Human Rights Law Clinic filed a petition against the United States for the death of a Mexican national by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The complaint, filed with co-counsel Alliance San Diego before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, calls for an investigation into the killing and a condemnation of U.S. actions.

The deceased, Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, died on May 31, 2010, a few days after border agents took him into custody. The father of five was caught trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border to rejoin his family in San Diego. He’d been deported just weeks earlier, despite having lived and worked in the U.S. for more than two decades.

CBP agents transported Anastasio to a deportation gate, and it’s there that the brutal beating ensued. As Anastasio objected to his detention, a dozen or more border agents punched, kicked, dragged, Tased, hogtied, and denied him medical attention, according to the petition.

Immobilized on the ground, Anastasio cried out for help in Spanish. His cries drew the attention of witnesses standing on a nearby pedestrian bridge, and several onlookers recorded cell phone footage. Border agents sought to confiscate any evidence—images, audio, video—but two eye-witnesses hid their phones and eventually released videos of the beating. Broadcast on U.S. news networks, the videos led to a public outcry and heightened scrutiny of the case.

An autopsy report revealed that Anastasio suffered bruises and abrasions on his face and body, five broken ribs, and hemorrhaging of internal organs. Anastasio died after suffering a heart attack, cardiac arrest, and brain damage. His death was ruled a homicide.

Despite the evidence and eyewitness accounts of the beating, federal prosecutors closed the criminal investigation last fall without pursuing criminal charges. The government was “unable to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt,” that the agents violated federal homicide statutes, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

A fearless team

Enter Roxanna Altholz ’99, associate director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic, and a team of clinic students. They drafted the petition for the Inter-American Commission, a body of the Organization of American States, claiming human rights abuses by the U.S.  

It’s a tactic Altholz has employed before—as lead counsel on cases against Colombian drug lords and Guatemalan military officers—when victims found no redress in national courts.

marchers

Marching for justice. Photo courtesy of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“For decades, the Inter-American Commission has investigated exactly this kind of case—extrajudicial killings by law enforcement,” Altholz said. The commission “has developed clear standards on what circumstances justify the use of force by law enforcement, how on-duty killings should be investigated, and what the government should do to protect the rights of the victims’ family members.”

Students Amanda Barrow ’16, Jessica Oliva ’16, Kelsey Quigley ’17, and Aaron Voit ’17 hand-delivered the petition to the commission in Washington, D.C., along with Altholz, Anastasio’s brother, and Andrea Guerrero ’99, executive director of Alliance San Diego.

“Our collaboration with the clinic is a game changer,” Guerrero said. “With the clinic’s help, we can take this fight for justice to the international arena … against the U.S. government for its systemic failure to deliver justice to border victims.” 

Oliva said it was time to hold the customs agency accountable for its “egregious violations of human rights.”

As a child of parents who came to this country as undocumented migrants, this case hit particularly close to home,” Oliva wrote in an email. “I hope that by shedding light on this systemic issue, we take a step towards the day where the lives of all human beings are valued equally, irrespective of migratory status.”

Barrow said she was stunned by the “impunity” of agents who kill.

“I thought that this case—involving the brutal killing of an unarmed man while he was handcuffed, in law enforcement custody, and surrounded by dozens of witnesses—couldn’t possibly be dismissed, or swept under the rug. Devastatingly, that’s exactly what happened,” Barrow said.

Pattern of abuse

CBP is the nation’s largest law enforcement agency. Since 9/11, Congress has more than doubled its budget and increased its access to surveillance equipment, weaponry and technology. In the past six years alone, its agents have killed at least forty-six Mexican and U.S. nationals along the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet successful disciplinary, civil or criminal actions against agents are exceedingly rare. The DOJ has closed all but one criminal investigation of a killing without filing charges.

Anastasio’s family members are pursuing a civil case that has yet to go to trial in a California district court.

rojas relatives

Relatives of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas. Photo courtesy of the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

Law student Voit, a former community organizer in El Salvador, said this case has helped him understand the “dire threats facing undocumented immigrants.”

“U.S. law enforcement at the Southern border has a long history of violence and abuse directed towards undocumented immigrants,” Voit said. “The U.S. government has an obligation to respect, protect, and ensure the human rights of every human within our borders—undocumented or otherwise.”

For Quigley, working on this project added “an emotional, tragic layer of complexity to a personal cultural awakening.” Although from San Diego, she hadn’t heard of the “struggle for justice” by Anastasio’s family. “I am now more aware of the pain, the gravity, and the ‘gray’ of living as an undocumented person in the U.S,” she said.

The issue of impunity by the border agency has to be seen in the context of policing nationwide, according to Guerrero. “If we are serious about holding law enforcement accountable for its actions from Ferguson, Missouri to San Diego, California, we must … hold CBP to the same standards that we seek to hold local police, without exception.”

International condemnation

If the commission pursues this case and finds the U.S. responsible for violating the human rights of Anastasio and his family, its recommendations could include: further investigation and punishment of the agents responsible; reparations for the damages caused; legislative reforms; apologies to the family members and other measures.

Altholz says it’s critical that an outside, international body “without political interests” examine the case. “Given the problems with how U.S. authorities investigated this case, we need an independent panel of experts to review the use of force and the investigation to recommend reforms to CBP,” she said.

“Security should not and cannot mean that it is ‘open season’ on border communities,” Altholz said.

By filing this complaint before the commission, added Barrow, we are “seeking to chip away at the militarization of the border and the violence committed by those who are charged with protecting us.”

For Anastasio’s brother, this latest legal maneuver offers a ray of light in an otherwise dark, difficult time.

“On behalf of my entire family, I am very grateful for the work of the clinic,” Bernardo Hernandez Rojas said. “With their help, we have new hope that one day we will get justice for Anastasio and that we will keep another family from suffering as we have.” 


Clinic Gains Key Victory for Victims of Heinous Crime by Colombian Drug Lord

Roxanna Altholz ’99

Roxanna Altholz ’99

By Andrew Cohen

March 17, 2016–Tenacity, perseverance, and deft legal maneuvering enabled the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) to celebrate a major victory this week. On March 14—after a six-year court battle—a federal judge granted victims of Colombian paramilitary leader Hernan Giraldo Serna the right to participate in the accused’s criminal proceedings.

In 2008, Giraldo Serna was one of 14 Colombian warlords extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. The clinic teamed with the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to represent the victims, who seek justice for egregious human rights crimes Giraldo Serna committed during the course of his drug trade.

“This is a rare acknowledgement by a U.S. court of the human cost of Colombia’s drug war,” said assistant clinical professor of law Roxanna Altholz ’99, IHRLC’s associate director and co-counsel on the case.

The clinic’s clients are the widow and daughter of Julio Henríquez, who directed a Colombian NGO that trained farmers to grow legal crops instead of coca, cocaine’s main ingredient. Giraldo Serna was convicted in Colombia for the 2001 disappearance and murder of Henríquez, who had opposed coca growing in an area under Giraldo Serna’s control. Henríquez’s body was found six years later.

Giraldo Serna admitted that over the course of four decades, he was responsible for torturing, murdering, and forcibly displacing thousands of people. Before serving jail time for those crimes, he was extradited from Colombia to the United States.

In the U.S. federal drug case against Giraldo Serna, Henríquez’s family wanted to be declared as victims of the drug conspiracy, which would allow them to participate in the case under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Enacted in 2004, the law ensures certain rights to victims—including the right to testify at sentencing, meet with prosecutors, and seek restitution.

New hope for victims’ families

With this week’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, Henríquez’s widow and daughter are cleared to testify at Giraldo Serna’s sentencing hearing on May 14. “The trial court ruling has persuasive value and this decision expands the universe of what is possible,” Altholz said.

Walton initially ruled against the family in August 2015, stating that the circumstances of Henríquez’s death were too removed from Giraldo Serna’s drug conspiracy. Altholz’s legal team appealed, however, and convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that Walton was too restrictive in his application of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. In reviewing the case under a broader standard, Walton ruled in favor of granting the family victim status.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opposed the family’s request for victim status—which still baffles Altholz. “There is no question that Giraldo Serna used violence and force to further the drug conspiracy,” she said. “Yet, the department claimed we had not proven that the victim was killed because of the conspiracy. The judge disagreed.”

Clinic students have worked under Altholz’s supervision on this matter since 2010, when they released a revealing report about the extent of human rights transgressions committed by Colombian warlords extradited to the United States. Last semester, students Lydia Sinkus ’17 and Natalie Schultheis ’17 worked on a sentencing submission for the case. It provides a fuller accounting of Giraldo Serna’s extensive criminal history in Colombia than what the DOJ appears to have made available, and describes the harm suffered by the Henríquez family.

“Our clients will be the first Colombian victims heard by any U.S. judge about the human consequences of drug conspiracies,” Altholz said. “They’re eager to find out what impact their participation will have at sentencing, and they’re optimistic about the opportunities this decision creates.”

Subminimum Wage Violates International Human Rights Standards

Report CoverBy Susan Gluss

February 9, 2016–Human rights experts and advocates have struck another blow against subminimum wages. A new report, Working Below the Line, claims the U.S. is violating international human rights standards in its treatment of tipped restaurant workers, most of whom live in abject poverty.

The report is a co-production of Berkeley Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC), the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United).

The criticism of subminimum wages is not new—momentum has been building in the U.S. to stop the “race to the bottom” for tipped workers. But this report, first released in December 2015 on International Human Rights Day, shines a new and troubling light on the issue.

At a packed law school event last week, the report’s co-authors cited numerous U.S. breaches of international agreements designed to protect workers’ access to a living wage, along with basic needs such as food, healthcare and housing. The U.S. is a signatory to most of these accords, but has not ratified all of them, which means they’re not legally binding.

The failure to abide by these international standards, while keeping subminimum wage laws intact, “exposes the gap between our democratic values and what our laws and regulations actually do in practice,” said Clinical Professor Laurel Fletcher, director of IHRLC.

In the restaurant industry, tipped servers earning subminimum wages live in poverty at nearly three times the rate of the total employed U.S. population, according to the report. Women and people of color are at the bottom of the wage tier, while workers of color experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of white restaurant workers.

Laurel Fletcher

Laurel Fletcher

“Minimum wage laws need to be adequate. It’s not what the market will bear. It’s not how far you can oppress workers who are desperate for a job so that they will accept any amount of wage. It’s actually an affirmative obligation to say that minimum wages need to be sufficient so that people can live a life with dignity,” Fletcher said.

Wage theft

Tipping originated in Europe, and Americans soon mimicked the practice. But the Europeans eventually put a stop to it, seeing it as degrading and economically unfair. Although a powerful anti-tipping movement emerged in the U.S. in the late 1800s, it collapsed as the practice gained legal ground.

Federal law sets the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. Tipped restaurant workers earn a subminimum wage of a mere $2.13 per hour. If the hourly wage plus tips doesn’t amount to the minimum, the law requires employers to pay the difference.  

But tipped workers say many restaurants often fail to pay them fully and fairly. This “wage theft” occurs when an employer refuses to pay overtime, poaches tips, illegally deducts fees from paychecks, and so on. The result is “a huge and profound wage inequality,” said report contributor Evelyn Rangel-Medina ’16.

In the report, workers tell stories of scarcity, hunger, and desperation: dumpster-diving for food, unpaid sick days, sexual harassment and intimidation, and more.

“I sacrifice eating the way that I should so my daughter can have everything that she needs. … And I make sure she’s taken care of before I make sure that I am taken care of.”
25-year-old, white female bartender in Houston, TX.

“They physically have to see you, in a sick state. … It’s like you literally have to get up out of your sick day to go show your face because they won’t believe you.”
31-year-old, black female server in Troy, MI.

Evelyn Rangel-Medina

Evelyn Rangel-Medina ’16

“I didn’t have very much money for food.  You know how places throw away their food … like a pizza when no one picks it up. … I went over there, basically taking [food] from the trash.”
27-year old, white male server in Boston, MA.

Real-world consequences

One of the leading opponents of the subminimum wage is Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Food Labor Research Center and director of ROC-United. In a New York Times op-ed, she writes that tipping has created an unfair “two-tiered wage system with deep social and economic consequences for millions.” A 2013 ROC-United study found that restaurant servers living on tips and subminimum wages depend on food stamps at about twice the rate of the U.S. workforce.

Jayaraman is now pushing a “One Fair Wage” campaign in statehouses across the country, asking lawmakers to require restaurants to pay all employees at least the regular minimum wage. And the drumbeat is growing louder. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have hiked their minimum wages above the federal minimum, up to $10 per hour. Several cities have gone even further, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, which are gradually phasing in a $15 minimum wage.

For Rangel-Medina, the clinical work in collaboration with ROC-United offered the chance to “connect my legal education to impacting the people that I care about the most,” she said. “Transforming the restaurant industry can create a model in how we approach other sectors in the American economy to actually end the exploitation” of low-wage workers.

Legal remedies

The report recommends a number of steps policymakers can take to align restaurant working conditions with international human rights standards. On the federal level, these include:

  • Supporting the Raise the Wage Act and the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act to increase the federal minimum wage and eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers;
  • Strengthening anti-sexual harassment employment laws and enforcement efforts;
  • Supporting the Schedules that Work Act to prevent arbitrary scheduling that can be used to punish workers; and
  • Supporting the Healthy Families Act (earned sick days) and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (paid leave).

For state and local policymakers, the authors similarly recommend raising the minimum wage and eliminating the tipped minimum wage, establishing earned sick days and fair scheduling policies, and strengthening protections against sexual harassment and other abuses.

To read the full report with a description of the applicable international human rights conventions, go here.


New Report Faults India’s Response to Sexual Violence Against Women

By Susan Gluss Access to Justice report

November 4, 2015–In India, female victims of sexual violence during social unrest, no matter how heinous the crime, have little chance of redress. Nearly all institutions, politicians, and state officials thwart their efforts, according to a new report. Access to Justice for Women: India’s Response to Sexual Violence in Conflict and Social Upheaval looks at India’s failed responses to these women and calls for corrective action and legal reforms.

The report is a collaboration between Berkeley Law’s International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) and the Armed Conflict Resolution and People’s Rights Project (ACRes) at the Haas School of Business (now the Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Project). Although the report focuses on female victims in India, the authors note that sexual attacks are perpetrated against the country’s other vulnerable groups.

Despite calls for reform after the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of a young female student that outraged the global community, sexual violence remains widespread across troubled areas of India. The underlying causes are complex, but stem, in part, from the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan that exacerbated conflicts between Hindu and Muslim communities—and inflamed deeply rooted cultural and political tensions.

Access to Justice examines four emblematic cases of sexual attacks: two occurred in the states of Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir; two others during mob violence in Gujarat and Odisha.

Roxanna Altholz '99

Roxanna Altholz ’99

The sexual crimes are “gruesome,” said co-author Roxanna Altholz ’99, IHRLC’s associate director, at a recent panel event to launch the report. “One instinct is to turn away,” she said, but implored the audience to continue to “listen to the voices of these women,” and to recognize their courage and resilience.

Sexual brutality against women can take many forms, including rape, sexual slavery, honor killings, and more, said Laurel Fletcher, director of the law clinic and report co-author. “But what’s common across these crimes,” she said, is “the failure of the state to protect women and to provide survivors access to justice.”

“Justice for these crimes is the exception and not the rule,” Fletcher added.

The four selected cases involve different national and local minority communities, different forms of sexual violence and perpetrators, and different political contexts. Despite these differences, the report reveals a common theme: the Indian justice system failed to investigate, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators—and failed to provide effective redress for victims.

Laurel Fletcher

Laurel Fletcher

Altholz described one case of a woman abducted by police in Punjab, beaten and raped in jail, and then threatened with retaliation if she reported the crime. The woman asked police to investigate, but they refused to take action. She sought help at a local hospital, but doctors rebuffed her. She wrote letters to a local judge until authorities finally agreed to try the case. It took 14 years for a conviction affirmed on appeal after 80 court hearings in total. And this case is atypical because the perpetrators served time in jail. Most go free, according to the report, with a slap on the wrist.

“For an illiterate village woman to try to get a complaint before a judge is a really Herculean task,” Altholz said.

Impunity is the norm

“Impunity is the result of state action and inaction across institutions and professions: police officers, military personnel, doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, investigators, and judges,” Altholz said. Perpetrators are rarely held accountable, she added, whether due to a code of silence, fear of retaliation, lax laws, or lack of political will.

Mallika Kaur ’09

Mallika Kaur ’09

Clinic alumna Mallika Kaur ’09, a director of programs for the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Haas and report co-author, underscored the need for legal reform in India. “It’s not just to enable people to live without terror, but to enable them to live on their own terms,” she said. “This is not too tall an order for democracy.”

The co-authors examined obstacles to effective investigation, prosecution, and reparation of sexual crimes and recommended a number of reforms. The first one “really appeals to common sense,” Altholz said: redefine rape as a crime of violence in India. “It’s now defined as a crime against modesty, so the emphasis is placed on the woman’s consent, not the use of force and coercion,” she said.

Other recommendations include sanctions against public officials who obstruct investigations, witness-victim protection programs, and independent and impartial tribunals.

The study of sexual violence as a tool of war is a fast-growing area of expertise for IHRLC. Multiple teams of clinic students have worked on related projects over the last few years, which helped build a foundation for this project, Fletcher said.

Other panelists at the event included Angana Chatterji and Shashi Buluswar, co-chairs of ACRes. Along with Kaur, they co-edited and released a related work, Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal. Both publications will be distributed to local, national, and international institutions and libraries specializing in law, human rights, social sciences, and South Asia studies, Kaur said.


Border Patrol: Clinic Provides Legal Roadmap for Families of Those Killed by Federal Agents

Roxanna Altholz ’99

Roxanna Altholz ’99

By Andrew Cohen

September 2, 2015–Since 2010, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have killed at least 40 people along the U.S.-Mexico border. Despite claims that unlawful use of deadly force caused many of the killings, efforts to gain redress through the legal system have largely proven futile.

That’s why Alliance San Diego founding executive director Andrea Guerrero ’99 contacted her Berkeley Law classmate—International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) Associate Director Roxanna Altholz ’99—to help untangle the legal complexities for those pursuing justice.

“We’re facing different kinds of law in multiple jurisdictions along the border,” Guerrero said. “Federal law, civil law, criminal law, international law—there are many permutations for what victims’ family members can do. I already knew about the clinic’s amazing work and Roxanna’s experience in international courts, so I contacted her to see if she could help.”

The result of their collaboration is a new report that identifies the remedies available—in the U.S. and Mexico—and provides a needed legal roadmap. It will be an instructive guide for the Southern Border Communities Coalition, a group of 60-plus organizations from California to Texas co-chaired by Guerrero.

The nation’s largest law enforcement agency, CBP is authorized to apprehend people suspected of violating immigration laws—which are civil laws, not criminal laws—within 100 miles of the border. Since 9/11, Congress has more than doubled its budget and increased its access to surveillance equipment, weaponry, and technology. While a few cases of CBP killings have settled, no plaintiff has won a wrongful death case against a border agent in civil court.

Andrea Guerrero '99

Andrea Guerrero ’99

“It’s important for advocates, victims, and litigators to understand the legal landscape,” Altholz said. “Prosecutors haven’t charged a single agent in one of these incidents in five years although the victims include some U.S. citizens, several minors, people shot in the back, and people shot in vehicles driving away. A border patrol agent shot one victim, a 16-year-old boy walking on a street in Mexico parallel to the border fence, several times in the back.”

Co-written by recent IHRLC student Yasmin Emrani ’15, the report probes three main scenarios: foreign nationals killed in Mexico, foreign nationals killed in the U.S., and American citizens killed in the U.S. It also analyzes trends in civil and criminal cases in the U.S. and Mexico.

“These agents have used force against people in unwarranted ways with no accountability,” Emrani said. “We gathered all the cases, looked at all the claims raised, tracked how each case moved through the courts, and produced a big-picture analysis. It’s a flow chart of sorts to determine the best legal strategy depending on the variables involved.”

An uphill fight

Over the years, victims’ relatives have struggled to gain information about the circumstances of killings and the identities of those responsible. They seek accountability through criminal investigation and prosecution, economic compensation, and policy reforms to prevent future killings.

“In the 100-year history of our border patrol agency, no agent has ever been successfully tried or held accountable in a court of law,” said Guerrero. “This should worry all of us if the largest law enforcement agency in the country is acting with impunity.”

Yasmin Emrani ’15

Yasmin Emrani ’15

U.S. courts routinely dismiss civil lawsuits, ruling that the agent’s actions constituted a reasonable use of force or an act of self-defense. They have also used legal doctrines such as sovereign immunity and extra-territoriality to quash legal claims.

“If a private citizen shot a Mexican minor standing on Mexican territory, that person would be held to account,” Altholz said. “But a federal officer who does the same thing is not. CBP describes itself as a paramilitary organization. They’ve refused to wear body cameras while many local police do. They’ve also refused to release the names of agents involved in these killings, though local law enforcement does that as policy. It’s time to level the playing field.”

With the recent national firestorm surrounding police violence against people of color, there is mounting legal pressure to hold CBP agents accountable. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering hearing a case about the death of Sergio Adrian Hernández Guereco, a Mexican teenager killed in Mexico by a CBP agent shooting across the border. Investigations prompted by the Obama Administration, members of Congress, and border community advocates also triggered a new CBP use of force policy—and the first publication of such a policy—last year.

“That was a major accomplishment,” Emrani said. “Under the old policy, agents could use deadly force against people throwing rocks across the border or unarmed occupants of moving vehicles, but no longer.”

The report uses civil and criminal court records, legal scholarship, and reports by government agencies, media, and advocacy groups. It also explores the basis for filing legal actions in both the U.S. and Mexico and assesses the likelihood for success.  

“This will empower families and advocates to negotiate with prosecutors and open up new avenues in the international courts,” Guerrero said. “The report is a game changer for us and arms families with information that’s critical to their ability to seek justice.”


The Dominican Republic Must Stop Expulsions of Haitians

July 5, 2015–A HUMAN rights crisis is unfolding on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The Dominican Republic is threatening to drive out hundreds of thousands of Haitians who live and work in the Dominican Republic. Many of them came to work in the sugar, construction and tourism industries.

Recently, the Dominican Republic demanded that they come forward and register for legal residency or be forced to return to Haiti. Of an estimated 450,000 Haitian migrants in the country, some 290,000 filed by the deadline to register, June 17 (which reportedly has been extended). But so far, less than 2 percent of them have been granted legal status. Although the country’s threat to deport Haitians en masse hasn’t yet materialized, many workers have already fled to Haiti; the Dominican Republic recently put the number at about 30,000.

These migrants are not the only ones who face an uncertain future in the Dominican Republic.

Tens of thousands of Dominican citizens of Haitian descent, whose parents or grandparents had crossed the border for economic opportunities, live in legal limbo. Until 2010, the Constitution ostensibly granted citizenship to anyone born in the country. But many Dominicans were excluded because their parents were deemed to have been “in transit” at the time of their birth. Moreover, the authorities routinely denied papers and ID cards to Dominicans of Haitian descent without justification, often on the basis of their French or Creole surnames or their skin complexion. As a result, these people — along with Haitian migrant workers — have lived in constant fear of arbitrary expulsion to Haiti.

The government has denied that it discriminates against Haitian migrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent. It even says that the recent registration process was a success. These claims are not to be believed.

Over 10 years ago, on behalf of two girls of Haitian descent, we sued the Dominican Republic in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, challenging the onerous and expensive requirements Haitian parents who sought to obtain birth certificates for their Dominican-born children faced. Without these papers, the children couldn’t attend public school, marry, own property or vote.

In 2005, the court ordered the Dominican government to recognize the nationality of these children and to seek out and issue birth certificates to all such children. But the country has barely complied.

Almost immediately after the decision, a small group of racist, ultranationalist politicians orchestrated an aggressive campaign against the ruling. The legislature amended the Constitution in 2010 to exclude children of undocumented migrants from citizenship. A court retroactively stripped citizenship from people of Haitian descent, going back to the 1930s.

After an outcry, the government backtracked. To save face, it created a plan to restore citizenship to those who had been stripped of it, and to gradually legalize Haitian migrants who had made their lives in the Dominican Republic.

But then the government sabotaged its own plan by demanding that poor migrants — who might earn under $11 a day in the informal economy — furnish documents like pay stubs, letters of employment or proof of homeownership in order to obtain residency papers.

Dominican Republic has a long, brutal history of mass expulsions of Haitians. In 1937, the dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of them. The word in Santo Domingo now is that the government is about to deport Haitians — and those who look Haitian — en masse. Past roundups have been conducted under the cover of night. People were thrust out of their beds, without time to collect their belongings or show what papers they had. Parents were separated from their children, wives from their husbands, citizens from their homeland.

Yes, the Dominican Republic is a developing country, and not the only nation that mistreats migrants and stateless people. But for decades, Haitians and their progeny have served as a scapegoat for Dominican politicians who blame them for poverty, disease and crime.

The Dominican Republic should put a halt to the sporadic roundups and summary expulsions. If it doesn’t, the international community must step in.

The United Nations and the Organization of American States should request that international monitors be stationed along the border and in detention centers to deter human rights abuses. If the Dominicans balk, they should be shunned at international forums. The United States, which gave about $30 million in aid to the Dominican Republic in 2012, must help prevent a humanitarian disaster.


New IHRLC Report Highlights Challenges for Undocumented Students at UC Berkeley

May 6, 2015 – Hunger, fear of deportation, and ineligibility for federal student loans are not the typical concerns of U.S. college students. But these complex issues shape the experience of undocumented students at UC Berkeley, according to a new International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) report. The study, DREAMers at Cal: The Impact of Immigration Status on Undocumented Students at the University of California at Berkeley provides data and recommendations to university, state, and federal officials seeking to support the success of undocumented students in higher education.

ihrlc_dreamer_coverBased on surveys and interviews conducted with undocumented students on the UC Berkeley campus, the report explores how undocumented status impacts students’ path to higher education, university experience, and plans for the future. IHRLC conducted the study after establishing the nation’s first on-campus legal support program for undocumented students in 2012. IHRLC Clinical Instructor Allison Davenport directed the research project and oversees UC Berkeley’s legal program, which has served over 250 undocumented students. IHRLC alumni Habiba Simjee ’14 and Genna Beier ’14 were critical members of the research team.

Who are the DREAMers?

Among the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. is a generation of young immigrants educated in the United States. Over a quarter of undocumented youth in the nation reside in California and it is estimated that over 2,000 undocumented undergraduate and graduate students are currently enrolled in the University of California system. These young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, have become not only more visible on college campuses but in the national debate on immigration reform.

Navigating Higher Education

The report identifies barriers to higher education arising from undocumented status. Undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid despite their financial need. Nearly all students in the study (94%) reported annual family incomes of less than $50,000 with the vast majority of households (88%) living below 150% of the federal poverty level.

Despite recent efforts to provide more financial aid, the study’s findings reveal the precarious situation of undocumented students on campus. Nearly three-quarters of students (73%) reported skipping meals or reducing the size of their meals while studying at UC Berkeley. Almost a quarter (21%) of students reported a period of homelessness or lack of stable housing during the time they have been enrolled at the university. Among the report’s recommendations are to extend access to federal financial aid for undocumented students and expand the eligibility criteria and pool of resources available in California.

UC DREAMers and their Families

Nearly all students in the study came to the U.S. more than a decade ago when most were under the age of 12. Most students belong to mixed status families which means, according to Davenport that “Family members living under the same roof live very different lives due to immigration status. One sibling may enjoy full citizenship while another lives in constant fear of deportation.” Over half (57%) of the undocumented students surveyed indicated they have a sibling with lawful permanent status or U.S. citizenship, slightly more (59%) have an undocumented sibling, and several reported the deportation of a close relative.

A shift in the legal landscape came in 2012, when the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. to certain eligible young immigrants. The overwhelming majority of research participants qualified for DACA. “DACA has provided stability and new opportunities to so many Cal students,” said Davenport, “But its future is uncertain and those students who do not qualify for the program continue to live without legal protection and permission to work.”

The report examines the central role of family for undocumented UC Berkeley students and how concern for family shapes their decisions. “DACA is a welcome change” noted Davenport, “but there is no peace of mind for these students until their parents and siblings have legal protection.”