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There are at least 50,000 of them: migrants of “irregular visa status” who have crossed the border into China, partly to escape persecution from North Korean authorities, partly because of hard times.
“Human traffickers systematically target the women, who are usually hungry and desperate, by approaching them in the border region and promising them food, shelter, employment and protection. Once the traffickers have gained the women’s confidence, the women are lured to an apartment, confined and then sold to local men.”
And so it becomes the duty of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants to write a letter to the government of China. Actually this letter is sent by two Rapporteurs, including the one who handles questions of torture. As with many of the letters sent by the Rapporteurs, several months pass without reply.
Or take the case of “Ms. Suprihatin, a 23 year old Indonesian domestic worker living in Hong Kong.” On April 24, 2005, she was rushed to the Queen Mary Hospital after falling 19 floors. Her employer assured authorities that Ms. Suprihatin had jumped out of despondency over her inability to help relatives caught in the recent tsunami.
But two friends of Ms. Suprihatin tell another story. They say she has no tsunami relatives. She was pushed from that window, she told them before she died on May 3. Chinese authorities in Hong Kong have promised the Rapporteur that if sufficient evidence is forthcoming, criminal charges will be filed.
Since his appointment on July 29, 2005 as UN Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante has tended to these letters, writing to governments of the world, informing them about migrants who are being mistreated often to the point of death, and waiting to receive return signals that the governments care.
In his first annual report of correspondence on March 27, 2006, Mr. Bustamante was able to thank the government of the United States of America for a “prompt and detailed reply” regarding a migrant worker from India who was held captive for four years in New York by a UN diplomat from Kuwait. USA authorities acknowledged the suffering involved and noted that they had to contend with certain protections of diplomatic immunity.
This week, as Mr. Bustamante tours a global frontier of migration north of the Rio Grande, USA authorities are not behaving so splendidly. The April 27 press release from Geneva was clear as could be: Mr. Bustamante would be visiting the USA with particular interest in migrant detention centers such as the T. Don Hutto prison in Taylor, Texas. He would visit Hutto, said Geneva on April 27. Oh no he wouldn’t, said the USA on May 3. And news of the government’s refusal flew out across the AP wire.
“This is really good news, folks!” said Texas border activist Jay J. Johnson-Castro, Sr. “This whole thing more than amply exposes the epitome of Texas corruption . . . and how it goes all the way to the White House. Corruption that is the stench of Washington . . . and traumatizes our own country and the entire world.”
In fact Johnson-Castro had chatted by telephone with Rapporteur Bustamante on April 30. The Texas activist wanted to stage a proper show of solidarity with the Rapporteur’s appearance at Hutto. Neighbors holding signs, a few words over a bullhorn. All at a safe distance across the street. There have been seven of these little vigils since mid-December, 2006. Today’s will be vigil eight.
And, yes, Mr. Chertoff, there will be a vigil today. Maybe a little louder and a few folks larger than the one planned last week, but there are some things the Department of Homeland Security does not yet control. And Hutto Vigil VIII is one little sign that citizens of the USA still consider themselves part of a global “yearning to breathe free.”
The vigil will last from 10 a.m. to sunset and will include a back-n-forth walk across the street from Hutto prison all day long. As with previous vigils, the focus will be on the children inside. About 200 children at any given time are locked up at Hutto for the fact of being migrant children. Up until today, USA authorities could claim they were sort of proud of the way these children were kept. But proud authorities don’t go around hiding from UN visitors, now, do they?
“The Special Rapporteur intends to carry out his work within the framework of international human rights instruments, and considers the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families a major instrument for the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants,” wrote Bustamante for his first annual report of December, 2005.
The convention on migrant rights is another of the UN treaties that the USA has failed to embrace. Johnson-Castro is ever fond of mentioning the convention on child rights as another.
“The Special Rapporteur also refers to the fact that reluctance to recognize the demand for the labour of migrant workers, which is a common factor among host countries, acquires heuristic importance when it becomes clear that there is some relationship between that reluctance and the appearance of anti-immigrant ideologies often tinged with xenophobia and racism. Denial of demand is an important issue as it is one of the main factors that leads to irregular migration, a situation at the core of much of the abuse and numerous human rights violations suffered by migrants.”
Of the 200 or so children now incarcerated with their parents at Hutto prison, how many would say that their families looked forward to working in the USA? How many would say their families had reason to believe that they would be put to work, hard and fast, by yanqui employers? We know a few children of Hutto whose families had worked quite long and hard in Texas.
One thing the Rapporteur would like to see is honest data collection on “de facto” employment practices involving “irregular migrants” so that we can look the facts straight in the face and stop lying about them.
Yet, it is the great American genius to put precisely those people to work hardest who have been best disabled from claiming very much in return. As the Rapporteur says, this is the “heuristically interesting” line of analysis that gets you from hard workers to racism every time, and not just in Texas, where these dynamics are assumed to be inbred.
So it will be important as we look for pictures of protesters at Hutto, chanting into a subtropical Spring, that we remember clearly this is not just about Texas. When the Rapporteur wrote the following words in September, 2006, he was talking about migrants across the world:
“The situations in which violations of the human rights of this group are alleged to have occurred during the period under review, giving rise to the intervention of the Special Rapporteur, include allegations of: (a) arbitrary detention, including of children; (b) inhumane conditions or detention; (c) illtreatment in the context of border control; (d) deaths as a result of the excessive use of force by members of the police and security forces; (e) collective deportations, summary expulsions and violations of the human rights of deported persons; (f) impunity for crimes committed against immigrants; and (g) gender violence.”
Hutto Vigil VIII begins with what we see in that imperial war zone called “the six flags o’ Texas” but it connects most deeply to everything else that otherwise goes unheard.
GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.