Honor rights of immigrants on Human Rights Day Dec. 10
|As members of the Dominican Family, we proudly stand in a 500-year tradition of advocacy on behalf of human rights. I hope we can take to heart the Spirit-inspired words of Montesinos and his confreres, no less relevant today than they were 500 years ago, and draw strength and inspiration from them in our own efforts to help create a more just world.
As I am sure most of you know, this Advent the Dominican Family is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the homily preached by Friar Antonio Montesinos,OP, upholding the human rights and dignity of the indigenous peoples of the island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). While Montesinos is credited with the actual preaching, the content of the homily was the fruit of the prayer of his community of friars, who felt they could no longer remain silent in the face of the cruel and oppressive policies of the Spanish conquistadors. Their message was haunting, and is still relevant today:
“By what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? … Are they not human beings? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as yourselves?”
Right here in the United States, we frequently find ourselves in polarized discussions regarding immigrants in our midst. We witness a government failing to muster the political will necessary to craft comprehensive immigration reform, with individual states filling the void by establishing their own, frequently draconian, immigration policies. And to our South, people die day-in-and-day-out, attempting to cross the border, in a desperate effort to earn a living for their impoverished families. What would Montesinos say today, regarding the treatment of these people?
Thanks to one of my colleagues, I recently came across information from the organization NO MAS MUERTES–NO MORE DEATHS. Their web site describes their beginnings in these words:
A morally intolerable situation inspired a remarkable humanitarian movement in Southern Arizona in the spring of 2004. Driven by economic inequality, thwarted by ill-conceived U.S. border policy, and ignorant of the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert, thousands of men, women, and children had already died trying to cross the Mexican border into the United States. Most of the deaths occurred in the brutal heat of the summer months. With another summer of inevitable deaths looming, diverse faith-based and social activist groups—along with concerned individuals—felt compelled to act to stem the death tide and attempt to save at least some lives. The result was the converging of hundreds of volunteers—local, regional and national—who came together to work for one common goal: No Más Muertes: No More Deaths.
Since 2006, NO MORE DEATHS has documented abuses endured by individuals in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities—in particular, the U.S. Border Patrol. They have recently published a report entitled “A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody,” which chronicles more than 30,000 cases of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of U.S. Border patrol personnel.
The abuses are alarming, and consistent over the years: deprivation of water; denial of medical treatment for people suffering from life-threatening conditions; both adults and children beaten during apprehension, and while in custody; separation of family members; lack of any kind of due process; confiscation of property/belongings; lack of special considerations for juveniles.
The response on the part of the Border Patrol has been consistent—denial—and any calls for reform have been ignored. NO MORE DEATHS has entitled its report “A Culture of Cruelty” “…because we believe our findings demonstrate that the abuse, neglect, and dehumanization of migrants is part of the institutional culture of the Border Patrol, reinforced by an absence of accountability mechanisms.”
In summary, the most significant findings of the report indicate that:
- Human rights abuses of individuals in short-term Border Patrol custody are both systemic and widespread, reflecting an institutional culture of abuse within the U.S. Border Patrol
- Any existing custody standards are not only inadequate, but are also not subject to appropriate oversight to ensure implementation. The report concludes that the persistence of this institutional violence reflects a lack of ethical leadership and responsibility on the part of our federal government, and is indefensible given the long-standing commitment of the United States to human rights, justice, accountability and the rule of law.
Dec. 10 marks the 63rd Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt considered her work on this declaration to be her greatest achievement. Shortly after its adoption by the UN General Assembly, she said:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood… the school… the factory, farm or office… Such are the places where every man, women and child seeks equal justice… opportunity… dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
The abuse of immigrants and the minimization of their human rights, whether in our own local neighborhoods or on our border with Mexico, is a blight on us all. As we celebrate Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, perhaps we could give some added attention to this issue and commit ourselves to be more pro-active in our advocacy on behalf of human rights and comprehensive immigration reform.
Here are some websites that may be helpful to you:
In conclusion, as members of the Dominican Family, we proudly stand in a 500-year tradition of advocacy on behalf of human rights. I hope we can take to heart the Spirit-inspired words of Montesinos and his confreres, no less relevant today than they were 500 years ago, and draw strength and inspiration from them in our own efforts to help create a more just world.
“By what right or justice do you keep these Indians [immigrants] in such cruel and horrible servitude? … Are they not human beings? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as yourselves? This, you do not understand? This, you do not feel? Are you in such a profound sleep that you are lethargic?”
Margaret Mayce, OP (DLC/Amityville)
NGO in Special Consultative Status at the United Nations
Dominican Leadership Conference
211 East 43 St. Rm 704
New York, NY 10017