News / Toronto

Human rights agency calls emergency hearing on Trump administration concerns

A pan-American human rights commission will review the “ongoing and deteriorating” human rights conditions under Trump’s executive orders.

In the wake of new U.S. immigration rules, an increasing number of asylum seekers have attempted to cross the border into Canada.

Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press

In the wake of new U.S. immigration rules, an increasing number of asylum seekers have attempted to cross the border into Canada.

A pan-American commission will hold an emergency hearing in Washington to investigate the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive orders on human rights in the country.

Tuesday’s hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was prompted by the requests from advocacy groups in Canada and the United States to review what they called “ongoing and deteriorating” conditions faced by asylum-seekers and other migrants under the Trump administration.

These groups have asked the commission to make findings that Trump’s travel ban against six Muslim-majority countries, which has been temporarily blocked by judges, and his expansion of detention and deportation against migrants violate U.S. human rights obligations.

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Some of the groups hope the human rights body will rule the U.S. is not safe for refugees and recommend the suspension of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which restricts asylum-seekers to filing claims in the country of their arrival.

“The expedited removals and expansion of detention under the orders are going to have profound implications on the U.S. asylum system,” said Efrat Arbel, a University of British Columbia law professor who co-authored, with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, a recent review of Trump’s executive orders.

The commission is part of the Organization of American States, made up of 35 countries, with a mission to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

Since Trump’s executive orders were issued, an increasing number of asylum seekers have risked their lives to cross the border outside of formal ports of entry into Canada in order to skirt the safe country agreement restrictions.

A member of the Harvard clinical program will appear at Tuesday’s hearing and will ask the commission to carry out site visits at the U.S.-Canada border to gather information, and also to convene another hearing with Canada to address issues surrounding enforcement of the bilateral agreement.

“I’m hoping it is a wake-up call to the Canadian government,” said Sharry Aiken, a law professor at Queen’s University, who has signed a petition with 240 Canadian academics in law demanding that Ottawa halt the pact temporarily.

“The Safe Third Country Agreement should be suspended until the U.S. demonstrates compliance with its legal obligations to refugees,” Aiken said.

Sarah Mehta, a human rights researcher with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the civil rights group is alarmed by the sweeping action of the Trump administration and its aggressive immigration enforcement.

Although the inter-American commission’s findings and orders are not binding, Mehta said the process does allow American officials to respond to the issues raised by concerned groups and give the international community a chance to share their experience and views on these policies that have implications beyond the U.S. border.

“What we want to do is for the U.S. to continue to remember its human rights obligations,” said Mehta, who will testify before the commission in Washington.

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