U.S.A., a purported beacon of human rights, is found guilty of violating them.


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights(IACHR) held that the United States’ refusal to provide for discretionary relief for aliens* convicted of “aggravated felonies” violated international human rights.

The United States ignored the recommendations of IACHR.

Thus, the U.S. is currently in the ranks of other nations in the Americas , such as Cuba and Venezuela, who routinely ignore adverse IACHR decisions.

First, a brief summary of the decision. Second, the United States, as the purported leader of the free world, must adhere to the decision of the IACHR or the purported will remain.

The Decision

Wayne Smith and Hugo Armendiz, the petitioners, both moved to the United States at a young age: 10 and 2, respectively. Shortly thereafter, both became Legal Permanent Residents(LPRs).

Smith’s life is reflective of millions of anonymous Americans: He became involved in drugs. In 1990, Smith pled guilty to possession of cocaine and attempted distribution, serving three years in prison.

After his release, he appeared to be living a reformed lifestyle, starting his own business, marrying a U.S. citizen, and having a child. His life unravelled in 1996: INS began removal proceedings against him.

By the time his case was heard on the merits, harsher laws came into effect.

Prior to 1996, an immigration judge had the discretion to cancel an LPR’s depration on humanitarian grounds, even if convicted of an aggravated felony(think best interests of the child, family, reformed character, etc.). Ever since 1996, the immigration judge has had no discretion . Smith was deported. He came back. He was deported again.

Armendariz’s story is similar to that of Smith’s. He was convicted of a drug crime,subsequently placed into removal proceedings, and could not avail himself of a waiver of deportation. Armendariz had a U.S.C. daughter and stepdaughter, both of whom he helped to support.

The IACHR found that the United States of America violated Wayne Smith and Hugo Armendariz’s rights under Articles V, VI, VII, XVIII and XXVI of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, by failing to provide an individualized balancing test in their removal proceedings. Here are the articles we have violated:

Article V. Every person has the right to the protection of the law against abusive attacks upon his honor, his reputation, and his private and family life.

Article VI. Every person has the right to establish a family, the basic element of society, and to receive protection therefor.

Article VII. All women, during pregnancy and the nursing period, and all children have the right to special protection, care and aid.

Article XVIII. Every person may resort to the courts to ensure respect for his legal rights. There should likewise be available to him a simple, brief procedure whereby the courts will protect him from acts of authority that, to his prejudice, violate any fundamental constitutional rights.

Article XXVI. Every accused person is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.

Every person accused of an offense has the right to be given an impartial and public hearing, and to be tried by courts previously established in accordance with pre-existing laws, and not to receive cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.

A Brief Analysis

The IACHR rejected the argument that the U.S.’s legitimate interest in controlling the entrance and removal of aliens outweighed the individualized interest of the petitioners and their families. Given the facts, an objective observer cannot do much but agree with the underlying rationale.

The policy behind the 1996 U.S. laws is ostensibly rational: specified classes of dangerous criminal aliens should be removed from the United States so that the general society of the U.S. is better off for it.

But the legislation, and subsequent case law, has created an expansive definition of what an aggravated felony is for immigration purposes. Counterintuitively, a  misdemeanor can be an aggravated felony. In fact, but for a Supreme Court decision this year, which ruled that simple drug possession is not an aggravated felony, LPRs were removed for some of the most minor crimes out there.

The petitioners’ crimes were, as it appears, not simple mistakes in judgment; rather, it was established there was intent to distribute illegal narcotics. Nonetheless, our judicial system, as it relates to most individuals in the United States convicted of non-violent drug offenses, is shaped with an eye towards rehabilitation.

Significantly,  the IACHR found that  petitioners had been rehabilitated. They were no longer a “threat” to society; they were like all humans–moving on from past misdeeds and working to support their family.

Undermining Society

By not providing individualized hearings for aliens convicted of aggravated felonies in removal proceedings, the United States risks ripping families apart without any conceivable benefit to society. If an alien has fully reformed from a past crime, there is no longer any rationale–outside of punishment–for removing them. If U.S.C’s are dependent upon the reformed, removed alien, then society, in the aggregate, is undermined.

The children of the alien are left with less opportunity; they may even have to go onto public assistance. In essence, there is no rational basis for the mandatory removal of aliens convicted of an aggravated felony.

The Human Element: Its Own Worst Enemy

The human rights enumerated in the American Declaration on family are made of two components: the practical and the abstract.

The family unit, in whichever form it manifests itself, is a bulwark against the chaotic swells of economic realities. But there is something else there, something which is not easily grasped. Some may call it love. The latter has been an effective force in combating the more destructive elements of human existence. If it is chipped away at–and the 1996 laws do chip away at the family–society becomes indisputably darker, both concretely and abstractly. Which brings us full circle.

The 1996 laws requirement for mandatory deportation of aggravated felonies was not, as stated earlier, grounded in practical reality; it was forged out of a malignancy within us all: fear.  It enabled  knee-jerk moral judgments to become the law of the land. The IACHR just called us out on it at a time when that malignancy is boiling anew.

The clear but unlikely choice that the United States Government should make is to immediately reform the law, providing individualized hearings–in which waiver of removal is an option– for aliens facing removal because of aggravated felony convictions. To do otherwise is to shirk our heavy responsibility for staving off the violation of human rights here and abroad.

*The word “alien” is not what I would normally use to describe my fellow humans. But for the purposes of clarity in the context of this post, I found it the best so as to not confuse the issues.


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One Response to “U.S.A., a purported beacon of human rights, is found guilty of violating them.”

  1. Tweets that mention U.S.A., a purported beacon of human rights, is found guilty of violating them. « El Gringo Gigante -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bryan Johnson, Bryan Johnson. Bryan Johnson said: United States Immigration Policy "officially" violates International Human Rights: http://bit.ly/9ODGrR #immigration #human rights #sb1070 […]

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