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

María Chacón and Johanna Mora Research Human Rights Violations in Immigrant Detention Centers

“Fort Missoula Alien Detention Camp” in Missoula (Montana)

March 2, 2022

With the support of the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Fund, during the last summer, María Fernanda Chacón Santana and Milta Johanna Mora Hernández, graduate students of the Sustainable International Development, LL.M. at the UW School of Law, along with Alejandra Gonza, Executive Director of Global Rights Advocacy, worked on the project: Migrants Rights Initiative: Freedom and Dignity. This project aimed to highlight the role of corporations in violating the human rights of immigrants detained in detention centers, initially at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. To do this, we created an advocacy toolkit to trigger accountability for human rights violations before international human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN WGAD). This project had different stages:

First, we did our research on the Inter-American System and UN Special Procedures, including the UN WGAD and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. Then, since there are many mechanisms to protect human rights, we selected two tools for each organization that are the most relevant, practical, and beneficial for the current immigrants detained. Likewise, we identified the categories of arbitrary detention, found similar cases, and extracted the most relevant arguments that immigrants can use for their individual cases. For example, Global Rights Advocacy submitted an urgent action on behalf of the detainees at the Northwest Detention Center. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decided on behalf of the detainees. Finally, we identified those arguments that the current immigrants could use for their situations.

Second, we worked on the elaboration of the toolkit. Based upon this research, we realized there was a lot of information we needed to organize clearly and easily accessible for all people. Following Professor Gonza’s guidelines, we decided to focus on the UN Special Procedures, including the UN WGAD and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. The main reason is that individual complaints and urgent appeals are more accessible and specialized mechanisms for those who want to report arbitrary immigration detention in the United States.

Third, to organize this information, we follow this structure:

  1. The right to migrate and the personal freedom of the migrant
  2. International protection of migrant freedom
  3. United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  4. What is the UN WGAD?
    • How to file a complaint before the UN WGAD?
    • Urgent appeal (example and the procedure to file an urgent appeal)
    • Individual complaints (example and the procedure to file an urgent appeal)

We also included explanations, instructions, consents, and forms for each action that can be used by the detainees, their relatives or anyone who wants to report human rights violations before this international organization.

Maria (second from right) and team visits the former United States Immigrant Station in Seattle

In addition to the toolkit, we visited two former detention centers to understand and empathize with the migrants and their families better to portray our message in the toolkit. One of them is in Seattle and another one in Missoula (Montana). Those places are remarkable examples of what would happen when finally the Northwest Detention Center is closed.

In order to improve our toolkit, we also contacted a pro-bono illustrator. Carmen Plaza Montelongo provided pro-bono graphic design work helping us to convey a direct message to simplify legal concepts.

Once the toolkit was finished, and due to the fact that at this time, the Northwest Detention Center does not allow visits, we contacted one of the leaders of La Resistencia, whose husband is detained at the Northwest Detention Center. We had a virtual call with Liliana Chumpi and shared the toolkit with her. We not only explained and shared the toolkit and asked her to provide feedback, but also we asked her, as a leader among the families affected by arbitrary detention, to share this project with more people who might be interested.

This toolkit was elaborated with Global Rights Advocacy and was shared with La Resistencia, two devoted NGOs working together for the freedom of the immigrants’ arbitrary detains. With this project, we have seen the need for immigrants detained due to isolation and health conditions. Also, how it has affected their families. For this reason, we think of sharing this toolkit as much as we can. For example, we want to share this tool with El Centro de la Raza. We sincerely hope that this toolkit serves as an accessible and understandable tool to hold the U.S. accountable for human rights abuses in an international forum.