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Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Students Testify at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic students, David Watnick, ’15 and Atenas Burrola, ’14 appeared at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. this week along with clinic director, Professor Jayashri Srikantiah. David writes below about the hearing, the testimony he and Atenas presented and his experience.

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On Monday, October 28, Atenas Burrola and I presented at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. The Commission is a branch of the Organization of American States tasked with examining human rights abuses in the Americas.

Our hearing, brought by a broad coalition of organizations, concerned the human rights of immigrants in the United States. Atenas and I presented on the failure of American immigration agencies to appropriately exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation decisions. By failing to consider family unity in every deportation decision, these agencies are violating America’s obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

Immigrants' Rights Clinic students David Watnick and Atenas Burrola outside the Organization of American States

In our presentation, Atenas and I requested that the Commission recommend that America’s immigration agencies require the consideration of family unity at all phases of every deportation cases. Such reforms can be adopted on an agency level with no legislative approval, meaning that America’s immigration policies can immediately be improved, regardless of Congressional efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The day after our hearing at the Commission, Atenas and I joined Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, for a series of meetings to expand our advocacy efforts into America’s political branches. We meet with officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the offices of Senators Reid, Durbin, and Menendez.

The trip was a great reminder that there are many ways to substantively contribute to an advocacy effort other than litigation (a fact often forgotten in law school), and I am very grateful to have been able to participate so directly—Atenas and I were definitely not kept on the sidelines. Immigration reform is proving to be a very difficult process, and our efforts will encounter no shortage of obstacles, particularly America’s reluctance to honor the decisions of international bodies, and the political preference of many in Washington to address immigration policy solely through legislation. But I’m confident that our work will be one link in the chain of a successful immigration policy reform effort.

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