Looking Back: Amarjargal Davjayev

Amraa DavjayevOn November 13 2012, Humphrey Fellow Amarjargal Davjayev participated in a cultural exchange activity at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She was excited to introduce Mongolian culture and explain her work on anti-human trafficking in Mongolia to the audience. Although Ms. Davjayev spent most of her time in the city rather than in the countryside back in Mongolia, she tried to demonstrate a whole picture of modern Mongolia to American college students. According to Ms. Davjayev, this was one of the most exciting events for her as a Humphrey Fellow since it was a great opportunity to improve her oral English and learn more about her own country while preparing for the presentation.  Ms. Davjayev hopes to have more chances to talk to American students about foreign culture and anti-human trafficking work in the future.

Not only did Ms. Davjayev present her work to the students, she also got involved in a number of professional skills exchange workshops and meetings. On January 16-18th 2013, a leadership foundation seminar on peace building and restorative justice exposed Humphrey Fellows from different universities to different strategies for resolving conflicts without assistance from courts or other legal bodies. During the forum, fellows exchanged stories about their work experiences and challenges in dealing with various kinds of conflicts. “I gained more knowledge about peace building and restorative justice” Ms. Davjayev said later.


Human Rights Fellowship Reflections: Bin Dai – Asia Catalyst

BIN DAII had worked for an NGO advocating human rights for the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS in China before I came to the U.S. While I was proud of our contribution to the community, I had the impression that the NGOs in China were generally weak. They were always struggling to survive the lack of management, insufficient funding, and strict and unpredictable government censorship. I wanted a chance to work with an NGO in the U.S. so that I could observe how it operates and deals with these and other challenges. Luckily, I was able to work with Asia Catalyst (AC) this summer.

The internship at AC turned out to be a perfect match for my goal. AC focuses on the health rights of marginalized communities in East and Southeast Asia. AC recently created, together with two other organizations, Know It, Prove It, Change It! A Rights Curriculum for Grassroots Groups series designed to help people living with HIV/AIDS understand their basic rights, document rights abuses, and design and implement advocacy campaigns. Moreover, a major part of AC’s mission is to train activists from grassroots groups to meet higher standards of effective and democratic governance, to establish a stable foundation for future growth, and to conduct rigorous human rights research and advocacy. With these efforts, the activists in China grassroots groups, who mostly don’t have higher education, will learn how to conduct surveys and interviews, develop a strategic plan, and raise funds.

AC also works with local NGOs to advocate for human rights of marginalized communities. One research project is about the Chinese administrative detention of sex workers, which largely involves human rights abuses. A Chinese local NGO has conducted interviews with sex workers who had experienced unlawful treatment during the administrative detention, and my work is to draft a report on the Chinese laws and police approaches that violate international human rights laws. I started the work on June 4, and had a Skype meeting with one of my supervisors who is in Beijing. I am delighted to join this amazing group. The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution

Viresh Bhawra: Undocumented Immigration from Mexico to the U.S.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

Viresh Bhawra (India, 2012-13) is a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow hosted by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  He is currently serving a professional affiliation with the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies in San Diego, California.

I completed my non-local professional affiliation at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) at the University of California, San Diego. There I was a visiting scholar studying undocumented immigration from Mexico to the United States. What I liked best about the CCIS was their non-partisan approach (neither ‘pro’ nor ‘anti’ immigration) and their evidence-based research into different aspects of immigration.Viresh in Mexico

Being based in San Diego, most of my study and interactions were U.S.-focused with an emphasis on San Diego. However, to get a balanced picture, I visited Tijuana, Mexico, and met a few experts doing academic research and professional work in this field.

The issue of immigration is viewed largely as an issue of sovereignty. On the U.S. side, the U.S. believes it has the right to decide how many foreigners can enter the U.S. and on what terms. Post 9/11, the dimension of national security has influenced immigration policy to a great extent. Employers’ demand for foreign labor has been another important factor in shaping U.S. policy such as allowing documented immigrants into the country, not allowing undocumented immigrants, and naturalizing undocumented migrants after every three decades or so. Programs such as Bracero and Guest Worker have brought temporary solutions, but indirectly contributed to the continued flow of undocumented immigrants.

On the other hand, experts based in Mexico view it as a type of economic migration driven by market forces of demand and supply. First of all, the U.S. needs labor (‘cheap labor’ to be precise) for jobs which U.S. citizens do not wish to have anyway. Secondly, NAFTA has damaged the Mexican economy because the borders have been open for goods but closed for people. The domestic industries could not withstand international competition with U.S. firms, and subsidies to agriculture were also withdrawn. Consequently, unemployment increased and northward migration was inevitable. Last but not least, Mexicans feel that Mexico is at the receiving end of most unilateral policy decisions of the U.S. because of the asymmetrical power balance between the two countries.

Experts on both sides agree on one point – Fortification of borders on US side has made illegal border crossing more difficult. According to experts based in Mexico, local Mexican smugglers (“coyotes”) have become jobless and have been gradually replaced by international human smugglers. “Coyotes” functioned more through social networks, owed social responsibility, and were more humane in their approach. The international smugglers approach involves the use of mercenaries and they owe no social responsibility. Abuse of immigrants’ human rights has become rampant due to the involvement of international human smuggling groups.

A tour of a portion of the San Diego sector of the border provided me first-hand exposure to the efforts made through the fencing of the border and its patrolling. Two layers of fencing could be seen throughout and triple layering at few points. The border fencing reminded me of the fencing (of much lower cost) at the India-Bangladesh border which was erected to check undocumented migration. Border fencing and the border patrol in San Diego have been extremely effective and illegal border crossings have become very difficult. Of course, it has come at enormous costs. The levels of success in other states may not be as high because of the difficult terrain, notably in Texas and Arizona.

Overall, this affiliation was a great learning experience about how a nation prioritizes an issue, comes up with strategies to address it, makes adequate resources (financial, human, material) available, and goes all out in its efforts, despite the inherent limitations in controlling economic migration and the pressing domestic demand for foreign labor.

The different approaches of the two countries to the problem can be summarized from one simple observation: it takes about five minutes to enter Mexico from the U.S., and it takes 2-5 hours to enter the U.S. from Mexico.

Human Rights Fellowship Reflections: Sarah Super – Justice Resource Institute Trauma Center

Sarah SuperDuring my stay in Boston working with the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, I had the privilege of attending The International Trauma Conference with well-known trauma scholars Bessel van der Kolk, Ian McFarlane, and Alan Sroufe. The four-day conference brought me to a further understanding of how trauma affects the human person, of new forms of healing, and the importance of self-care for the therapist and advocate.

Looking at the brain and behavior, it is frightening to see the effects of trauma. A trauma survivor is stuck in the fight/flight/freeze state of mind, the worry of survival always at hand. As Bessel van der Kolk defines it, “The goal of treatment of PTSD is to help people live in the present, without feeling or behaving according to irrelevant demands of the past.” What I took from the conference is that the ability to heal from trauma seems to be strongly related to the time at which the trauma took place in life. Babies, children, and adolescents have it the hardest in that trauma dramatically impacts their brain development. Their behavior is melded to whatever helped them survive (physically and emotionally) during the trauma. In the conference, we looked specifically at mothers who had complex trauma, witnessing how their behavior actually passes the trauma down to their children. It was haunting and deeply depressing. The answer seemed to lie somewhere between having stable, loving relationships with others and in practices of mindfulness.

While I am here to learn about and expand on yoga as a treatment for trauma, yoga really has been a way to care for myself as I go deeper into the issues surrounding trauma. In this way, my mind is spinning with ways in which to bring yoga into the world of advocacy. Self-care is usually taught as getting plenty of rest, eating nutritious meals, connecting with others in the profession to digest this work… and while all of that is true and beneficial, ultimately, it takes a lot of time in the day to do those things. My belief is that just 30 minutes of yoga can make a dramatic difference, and when your job is protecting someone else’s life, 30 minutes might be all you get. In this way, the ancient tradition has some very new meaning for people in the West.

In conclusion, I am eager to get back to the Twin Cities and put my knowledge and experience to use. Since my arrival one month ago, this fellowship has been highly educational not just academically, but also in my self-study as an advocate. I will always remember this experience.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.