WASHINGTON – In announcing the United States' annual list of the world's worst human rights violations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week singled out South Sudan and Nicaragua for government-sanctioned atrocities against their own people.
Over the past year in South Sudan, Pompeo said, "military forces waged sexual violence against civilians based on their political allegiances and their ethnicity." In Nicaragua, he said "when citizens peacefully protested Social Security benefits, they were met with sniper fire."
But the Department of Homeland Security has sought to limit the number of immigrants from South Sudan and Nicaragua seeking to temporarily live and work legally in the United States.
The apparent contradiction shows the Trump administration's competing priorities and how they affect foreigners facing government corruption and violence.
Even as homeland security has sought to tighten U.S. borders and strictly enforce immigration laws, the State Department is highlighting some of the very systematic abuses that have sent people fleeing to the United States.
That "perfectly illustrates the unfairness inherent in this administration's approach to temporary protected status," said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, referring to a program that gives immigrants short-term residency.
He is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the administration's efforts to pull those protections from immigrants.
An estimated 2,500 Nicaraguans are living in the United States under temporary protected status and have been ordered to leave, adjust their immigration status or face deportation. They have been given a reprieve as a federal court in California considers their case, along with immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, Honduras and Nepal who are also challenging the administration's deportation order, which they say is racially motivated.
Temporary protected status was first opened to Nicaraguans in 1999 after the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch, and it was extended for years afterward. As part of its decision to withdraw the protections, homeland security officials concluded that conditions are now safe enough in Nicaragua for the immigrants to return.
The State Department report, however, found that clashes in Nicaragua that began last April between police and protesters have so far killed 325 people and injured 2,000 more. Hundreds have been illegally detained and tortured, and more than 52,000 exiled, the report found.
The State Department described a range of atrocities in South Sudan throughout 2018 — many at the hands of government officials or security forces.
They included "rape and gang rape employed as a weapon of war, arbitrary detention and torture, enforced disappearances, explosive remnants of war, forced displacement, the mass destruction of homes and personal property, widespread looting and use of child soldiers," the department found.