Skip to main content

Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Bridget Grotz Exposes Immigration Abuses with Human Rights Watch

June 30, 2016

Thanks to the Osheroff-Clark Fund I was able to work for Human Rights Watch (HRW) in the US Program as a research intern, where I had one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life. The first half of my ten weeks interning was centered on the conditions of detention centers in the United States. Specifically, the research was focused on recent deaths in detention centers and the lack of medical treatment given to migrant detainees. When I first started my internship with Human Rights Watch, the US government had just released the death reviews of 18 migrants who recently died while in the custody of US authorities. HRW was working to release a presser plus, shedding light on these deaths and the lapses in medical care. Under the supervision of HRW immigration researchers, I assisted with the project in various ways including: requesting medical records, organizing and summarizing those records, reviewing the detainees’ segregation history within each detention facility, researching civil cases regarding detention center conditions, and evaluating the detention centers’ contracts.

On July 7, 2016 HRW published a presser plus titled “US: Deaths in Immigration Detention,” which included everything that we had been working on. The presser plus exposed how substandard medical care and violations of detention standards contributed to 7 of the 18 migrant deaths. Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration to stop using detention centers that do not provide adequate medical care and to end the use of solitary confinement for those with mental disabilities. I also participated in advocacy work surrounding the findings by helping with the social media pages. Reading about the terrible medical care and horrifying circumstances that the migrants are facing in the US detention centers motivated me to keep working for immigration reform.


Bridget Grotz and colleagues at the offices of Human Rights Watch

Recently, there has been some major changes to the prison system. The Department of Justice announced it will cut ties with private prisons because of safety and security incidents. However, the Department of Homeland Security has not yet followed their example. Private contractors are still being used for immigration detention centers and the research reveals that immigration detention is inhumane. Because of my research at HRW, this issue has grown close to my heart and I hope to continue advocating for the end of immigration detention in the future.

During the second half of the internship I was given more autonomy and conducted preliminary research on different immigration issues. These research projects emphasized human rights related issues regarding: withholding of removal for asylum seekers, universal legal representation for migrants, and illegal reentry prosecutions. For the projects, I not only did legal-related research, but I was also given my first taste of journalism where I conducted interviews with experts across the country. Doing my own research allowed me to explore areas of immigration law that I previously had no experience or knowledge in. I also received valuable feedback on both my writing and research techniques in general.

In addition to my work, Human Rights Watch also gave all interns the opportunity to participate in the “Summer Speaker Series.” The speaker series featured HRW researchers and directors working on issues around the world. Some of these presentations included career advice as well as lessons on advocacy and tips on working in the human rights field.

All of these experiences at Human Rights Watch have influenced me to continue working for migrant rights and to pursue immigration law in the future. It also encouraged me to come up with ideas for immigration-related research papers that I plan on finishing on my own.