Friday, October 21, 2011

Is this the best way to reform our immigration system?

A recent LA Times article, discusses a new bipartisan Senate bill which would grant new homeowner visas to individuals seeking to come to the United States who spend at least $500,000 on a residential property. The goal of this legislation is to encourage foreign investment as a means of stimulating the American economy, and to remove existing disincentives for the well-off who wish to move to the United States. These individuals would also be able to bring spouses with them, as well as children. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated that this legislation is also intended to encourage people to come to the United States to spend their money, not only to acquire a job that would otherwise go to an American citizen. These new immigrants would be ineligible for many US social programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

I think the intentions - and probably results - of this legislation are good, but is this really the area of immigration law that we should be focused on reforming? Yes, this new program will probably lead to much-needed economic stimulation here in the United States by encouraging foreign investment from people who will permanently settle in and contribute to American society. But should this really be our priority?

There are thousands of individuals from all across the world who would jump at the chance to enter the United States. Many of them are fleeing persecution, famine, disease, poverty, and other horrendous socioeconomic circumstances, but we make them prove to us why they should join our society before we offer them protection. Many others would probably live a normal and prosperous life if they were to remain in their country, but they would like to move here nonetheless for one reason or another.

Our society is bursting at the seams, and we can't let everyone in. We only have room for so many. Should we work tirelessly to make space for those who desperately need our help, or for those who don't? Should we encourage certain people to join us while we continue to enforce a system that discourages others? I don't know the answers to these questions, and they're certainly not black or white.

I'm just not sure that our priorities lie in the right place when we're creating immigration incentives for a group of people who objectively don't need our help, while we deport those who do by the hundreds of thousands.

Stop the Child Labor in Bangladesh

The average person will not know the location of Bangladesh, my home country. (It's in South Asia, adjacent to India). Despite it's small size, Bangladesh is extremely over-populated and extremely poor. Although there are many health and education issues, child labor continues to be a big problem. Child labor is defined as, "Child labour is work that exceeds a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work. Such work is considered harmful to the child and should therefore be eliminated." (UNICEF). Although child labor is illegal in Bangladesh, the garment industry employed between 50,000 and 75,000 children under 14.
In 1992, the US enforced legislation that banned the importation of goods made using child labor and this decreased number of children employed. However, they went looking for new jobs in stone-crushing, street hustling and prostitution, all activities that are much more dangerous than garment making. In 1995, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), UNICEF, and International Labor Organization (ILO) made an agreement. They agreed to move all workers aged below 14 to attend an appropriate education program for four months, under-age workers cannot be hired, and the children's jobs should be offered to qualified adult family members. NGO's have been pacing child laborers in special schools and are protected and receive health care.
Despite all of these reforms and programs, child labor still exists in Bangladesh. According to UNICEF's 2010 report for child labor in Bangladesh, 3.2 million are child laborers, aged 5- 17. 421,000 child domestic workers work seven days a week and 90% sleep at the employer's home, so they are completely dependent on their employers and have restrictions on their mobility and freedom. Hundreds of thousands of children work in hazardous jobs, which expose children to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, excessive work hours, and an unhealthy environment. For example, 3,400 children work in brick/stone breaking. Children are not provided with any safety gear or protection from brick dust. 123,000 children work as rickshaw pullers, 56,000 work in carpentry. 
Within the past year, through reforms implemented by UNICEF, more than 6,600 learning centers have been established in the six cities of Bangladesh, which provides basic education and life skills training to 166,150 urban working children. Please refer to the UNICEF pdf file for more statistics. What still needs to be done, however, is to increase awareness about child labor because it exists all over the world, not just Bangladesh. Fortunately, the National Child Labor Elimination Policy 2010 has been adopted. I hope the numbers of child laborers in Bangladesh are declining.  


Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State

The ethnic group, Kachin, is the second largest group in Burma (technically-Myanmar). The Kachin state is located in the northernmost part of Burma. Since more than five months ago, the Burmese armed forces have been fighting against the Kachin Independence Army and have been killing and attacking many civilians through forced labor, which resulted in the displacement of an estimated 30,000 Kachin civilians. The cause of the hostility between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization is the suspension of US$3.6 billion hydropower dam project on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. So far, tens of thousands of people have fled through the mountains and jungle during the peak of the rainy season.
Human Rights Watch is sending people on fact-finding missions to investigate the situation. HRW documented three Kachin killings by Burmese soldiers in June. Villagers told HRW that a Burmese soldier shot and killed a 52-year-old woman and her 4-year-old grandson in their home as they tried to flee. Soldiers shot and killed a farmer as he stood unarmed with a group of friends at a cemetery. 18 women and girls have been gang-raped by army soldiers and four were killed.
Most people are shot as they try to flee. Below is the story of a 62-year old woman and her four young grandchildren.

“In the morning when we were cooking rice, we heard gunfire and we left our food and went to the field, looking into the village the whole day before we fled. When we ran the soldiers shot at us. We were really afraid. We just ran and hid.” She said that after two days in the jungle without basic provisions, they decided to return home to get food, at which point they were fired upon a second time. “We had already left the house and were on our way out of the village … and the soldiers opened fire on us [again],” she said. “No one was hit. When the soldier opened fire it made me shake and I didn’t know what to do. We just ran.”

More personal stories:

A 51-year-old Kachin farmer from Sang Gang told Human Rights Watch that a government soldier opened fire on him on June 12, despite it being clear he was unarmed: “The soldier and I were around 50 meters apart, and between us was a small stream. The soldier said nicely, ‘Brother, come, come,’ and I pretended to come and then suddenly ran, and the soldier shot at me two times. I hid for one hour near where I escaped. After one hour it was getting dark and I ran. I was afraid of the Burmese.”

A 33-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that before the current fighting she was forced to carry provisions up a two-mile road to a Burmese army outpost while she was six-months pregnant. She said, “I had to do forced labor for the Burmese soldiers many times… [Before the fighting began] we carried rice and other things to [the Burmese army] post and walked back. It took three hours. The path is very steep, we had to climb the mountain and it was difficult to reach. From morning to evening we had to do it twice. The food we brought ourselves and we ate. They didn’t feed us.”

A villager from Sin Lum described fleeing to the jungle: “We were afraid to live in the village so we went to hide in the jungle one mile from the village. It was 11 households, 58 people. We lived there for a month ... and when we needed food and rice we secretly went back to the village and then came back. We lived [in the jungle] with plastic bags as shelter. When we were going back and forth secretly, the Burmese soldiers saw us and told us next time they saw us they were going to shoot us. After that, no one went back.”

Technically, “under the laws of war applicable in conflict areas in Burma, all sides are prohibited from mistreating persons in their custody, targeting civilians, or pillaging homes and other civilian property.” But when do we follow these laws, anyway?

What kind of a damn world do we live in?

This past weekend, a two-year-old girl, named Yueyue, was run over twice near a hardware market in Foshan, China. Despite the horrible injuries that she faced, the most disgusting part of it all is that MORE THAN A DOZEN PEOPLE passed by the dying child and simply ignored her. In the link above, there is a video. Please watch it with caution-it will be graphic. I'm simply appalled by the fact that 18 people just walked by and went on with their normal lives and completely ignored this little girl. What's wrong with these people? How can our society be so indifferent and so heartless?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Death Penalty: A Human Rights Violation

October 10, 2011 marked the 35th year that the United States reinstated capital punishment. Human Rights Watch expresses its discontent with the death penalty, explaining that it is a fundamental human rights abuse:

"Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because the inherent dignity of the person is inconsistent with the death penalty. This form of punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error."

There are many reasons, Human Rights Watch explains, why the death penalty is a violation of human rights. First, many innocent people have been unjustly killed because of the Death Penalty. Second, the death penalty violates the right to life found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties. Third, the authorities often times discriminate based upon race, poverty, and geography; which can lead to the difference between life and death. For all these reasons, the death penalty is used less and less as a means of punishment in the United States.

I believe that the death penalty is a violation of human rights. Not only this, but punishing people upon death seems like a very barberic and ancient way of punishing people; and certainly does not help create the type of civil world we want to live in.

Of course, there are some real strong counter-arguments. Paying for murderers to live out their life in jail hardly seems fair. And, it is certainly a strong incentive not to commit crimes. Nonetheless, I still believe that the negatives of the death penalty greatly outweigh the positives. Any thoughts? Is the death penalty a human rights violation?

Police Criminality in Ukraine

“The Ukrainian authorities must act immediately to deal with endemic police criminality, Amnesty International said today in a new report that reveals widespread torture, extortion, and arbitrary detention.”

The Ukrainian public is demanding investigations for violations of human rights by the police. They are tired of the ill treatment and corruption amongst the authorities. Last year alone, the state office received more than 5,000 complaints about corruption and torture by the authorities. Some police officers who torture or ill-treat detainees never face disciplinary or criminal proceedings, because of high levels of corruption, harassment and intimidation of complainants and lack of supervision by the government.

Amnesty International states, “Complaints by detainees against police officers for torture and ill-treatment are either disregarded or dismissed regardless of how well-founded they might be.”

It is extremely difficult and traumatic for someone to go and complain because the public continues to live in fear of what may happen to them if the authorities find out. The government does not provide any forms of protection for witnesses or complainants. Police officers often falsify documents and brutally beat, and torture someone until they sign confessions. There are also many instances of people ‘committing suicide’ while detained and/or disappearing after being arrested. Extortions for the release of prisoners are not uncommon either.

This video explains the endemic in Ukraine very well.

It is troubling that such things take place within a democratic state. Clearly the government needs to do something to revive the public’s trust back into their police force. What can one do when the very entity that is design to protect and serve are the ones committing gruesome crimes?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Human rights watchdog calls on Canada to arrest former U.S. president

Is this really a strong enough case to detain former President Bush?

Very interesting point:
"Amnesty International cherry picks cases to publicize based on ideology. This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International," Kenney said in a statement.

Speech and Representation: Jamaican case

We may need to seriously reevaluate how we assess asylum claims. Why is it that there seems to be few provisions made to accommodate asylum cases? And those that are made are not nearly enough or as frequent considering the case load. Mr. Cotterel's case is a perfect example. He clearly has reason to fear being returned to Jamaica, and yet, an asylum grant is not guaranteed. It seems like our system is working against him.
First, there is the issue of communication. As if it isn't already hard to build a strong asylum application, imagine trying to do it with, not only a language barrier, but a speech impediment as well. It also seems as if he is being penalized for missing a court date that occurred while he was incarcerated in York. Shouldn't it have been York's responsibility to make sure he was present for that appearance? And why did it take so long for him to gain legal representation. At least now he has some hope. If Mr. Shagin had not taken on his case, would he even have thought to appeal the IJ's decision?
There is a great need of legal support for immigration cases. Until the supply meets the demand we will continue to see cases, similar to Mr. Cotterel's, slip through the cracks and have deserving people denied much needed refuge.