Editor’s Note: Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council from 2009 to 2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
While the President and Vice President refuse to take any ownership for the inhumane conditions at facilities that they are responsible for, other countries are probably recalibrating their views of the US. America’s reputation as a leader for human rights around the world has been tarnished by the Trump administration’s legacy here at home. The inhumane treatment is not only harmful to the migrants we are charged with protecting within our borders – it will also hamstring our ability to promote human rights abroad.
That puts innumerable men, women and children in harm’s way.
US officials have shared that detention facilities are overwhelmed by an influx of migrants across our southern border. In a letter she wrote to Congress in March, former Department of Home Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked for assistance and cited overflowing facilities with the potential for a “system-wide meltdown.”
The DHS also has written a public report noting dangerous overcrowding and the prolonged detention of children.
A more recent House Oversight Committee report detailed the ongoing nightmare of Trump’s policy of separating children from their families.
These inhumane conditions aren’t just grabbing domestic headlines – the world is watching. The United Nations said last year that the Trump administration’s child separation policy violates international law, while the organization’s commissioner for human rights was “appalled” by the current conditions of migrant facilities in the US and said that the administration’s treatment of migrants may violate international law.
The ICE raids targeting approximately 2,000 people that began Sunday could put additional strain on already overwhelmed detention facilities. If we can’t guarantee the basic human rights of migrants currently under our care, potentially adding more to the mix is a human rights disaster waiting to happen.
The United States, under successive Presidents from both parties, has been a champion for human rights around the world. Violating these rights here at home, however, makes the goal of promoting them around the world all the more difficult - hypocrisy doesn’t provide the US much leverage.
While members of the administration can point the finger at Congress or the Northern Triangle countries, where many of these migrants are from, the reality remains that human rights abuse is happening under their watch.
Not our problem
President Donald Trump’s relationship with the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has been strained by his decision to cut off their foreign assistance funding.
Trump has also blamed the countries for not doing more to stem the flow of migrants from their countries to the United States, despite their own capacity constraints. Other members of Trump’s team have acknowledged that US funding helped to ameliorate these constraints. But by slashing funding – much of which was used to counter gang violence, crime, and poverty – President Trump may be exacerbating many of the root causes of migration and putting Central Americans at greater risk in their home countries.
Before Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales postponed his Washington DC visit a day before he was set to arrive on Monday, there were reports that Trump was going to try to offload more responsibility on President Morales to halt the flow of migration. With more than half of Guatemalans living in poverty, more Guatemalans are migrating north every year. And because of the country’s geographical location, Hondurans and Salvadorans making their way to the US southern border pass through Guatemala.
President Trump may want Morales to sign an agreement declaring Guatemala a “safe third country” for asylum seekers. This could mean asylum seekers at US ports of entry could be redirected to apply for asylum status in Guatemala instead, which would make them Guatemala’s responsibility, not ours.
Morales reportedly postponed his trip until Guatemala’s Constitutional Court hands down a ruling on a safe third country agreement, according to a statement released on Twitter.
Human rights has never been a top priority on Trump’s agenda. He’s let leaders like Kim Jong Un off easy when it comes to human rights abuses. Now, he’s willing to send migrants elsewhere, even if their human rights and safety won’t be guaranteed. He also seems willing to countenance human rights abuses in the United States, as long as he can blame someone else.
Regardless of who Trump targets in his tweets, this is happening on his watch and he is consistently undisturbed by it. This is having a devastating impact on migrants suffering while in our care and will undoubtedly affect our ability to protect human rights globally. We can’t hold other countries to a higher standard than the President places on himself here at home.