Addressing the Refugee Crisis in Los Angeles
Thursday, Jun 29, 2017
Panelists raise awareness of legal and public health consequences of new federal policies
In honor of World Refugee Day, USC Gould’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) hosted a panel at the law school with advocacy group Human Rights First centered on “The Impact of the U.S. Presidential Administration’s Current Immigration Policies on Migrants Fleeing Persecution.”
The panel’s purpose was to raise awareness of the mounting global refugee crisis and provide an update on the legal and public health consequences of the new presidential administration’s policies on refugees nationally and locally.
According to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, refugees are defined under international law as those who are outside of their country, forced to flee across international borders, because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
In her opening remarks, IHRC Director Prof. Hannah Garry noted: “This year, a commemoration of World Refugee Day is especially critical considering the unprecedented numbers of refugees globally and an increasingly hostile environment in the U.S. and Europe against receiving refugees, in spite of long-standing obligations on States to protect this vulnerable population.”
The panelists were from a range of disciplines and included: Jenna Gilbert, staff attorney at Human Rights First; public policy expert Dr. Linda Lopez, Chief of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; and Dr. Cynthia Willard, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine and Medical Director at the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles.
Gilbert discussed how Human Rights First has uncovered that U.S. border agents are illegally turning away asylum seekers from the U.S. southern border, among other abuses refugees are currently suffering more frequently at the border. She also provided details on new federal policies and executive orders, resulting in increased indefinite
IHRC Director Prof. Hannah Garry with panelists Dr. Linda Lopez, chief of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Dr. Cynthia Willard, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine and medical director at the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles; and Jenna Gilbert, staff attorney at Human Rights First.
detentions and summary deportations, as well as a drastically reduced commitment to refugee resettlement, and their legal implications for refugees at the national level.
Dr. Lopez shared how the Mayor’s Office has shifted its previous focus from encouraging immigrant integration, to providing protection and services to refugees that are currently unavailable from the federal government. Lopez described how the Mayor’s Office is collaborating with attorneys, nonprofit organizations, and local government in response to the executive order instituting a travel ban against individuals from certain Muslim majority countries, including the organizing of “Know Your Rights” workshops for the refugee community in Los Angeles.
Dr. Willard spoke about the public health impact on local refugees of the new federal policies and their resulting change in agency culture, which leads to more abuses and poor conditions at institutions such as detention centers. She cited data on the health consequences of families not seeking health care, the negative mental health effects and the overall worse health outcomes in communities where there is a heightened fear of deportation and increased detention rates.
In her remarks, Professor Garry shared the following statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Global Trends Report of 2016:
• 55% of all refugees worldwide, estimated to be over 25 million, are fleeing armed conflict in three countries: Syria (5.5 million); Afghanistan (2.5 million) and South Sudan (1.4 million).
• 51% of all the world’s refugees are children—in 2016, 75,000 asylum claims were made by children traveling alone or separated from their parents. An increasing number of these were fleeing intensified violence south of our border in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These children, along with women refugees, are at much higher risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, exploitation and gender-based violence while in exile.
USC Gould’s International Human Rights Clinic engages law student in legal representation and advocacy for the purpose of upholding fundamental human rights, including those of refugees.