The orientation of this platform for Comprehensive Migrant Justice is towards justice rather than political expediency.
It is my belief that justice can be done only when the injustice of the current system is exposed carefully and completely. The emphasis in this platform, which I wrote after numerous conversations with other advocates, is on working in concert towards clearly articulated goals.
The preamble sets out the rationale for the platform. The particular goals are listed below in a “plan for redress.”
The United States’ Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, US Supreme Court, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide can guide us in our thinking about systems which tend toward the marginalization, dislocation, and oppression of peoples. The United States’ Declaration of Independence says that part of what it means to be free is to have the ability to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness.” The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that governments only exist in order to protect these God-given “unalienable” rights.
The US Declaration of Independence also says that governments derive their authority only from the consent of the ones being governed.
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for “equal protection under the law.” In interpreting this principle, the US Supreme Court has said that “the amendment disable[s] a State from depriving not merely a citizen of the United States, but any person, whoever he may be, of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or from denying to him the equal protection of the laws of the State. . . . [This pertains to] all persons who may happen to be within their jurisdiction.”
In 1948, the United Nations’ General Assembly, in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clarified what it means to speak of freedom and inalienable rights in the modern world. In particular, the UN addressed what may not happen if we are to live together “in a spirit of brotherhood.” No one, it says, “shall be held in slavery or servitude.” No one shall be “subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” No one shall be “subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” No one shall be “arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
The UN Declaration of Human Rights also articulated of what freedom consists. It consists of the right of a person to “leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,” the “right to a nationality,” the right not to be “arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality,” the right “to own property alone as well as in association with others,” the “right to take part in the government of his country,” the right to “the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
Everyone, the UN goes on to say, has the right to “work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment,” the right to “equal pay for equal work” and to “just and favorable remuneration for himself and his family.” Everyone has “the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
In 2006, recognizing “the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from . . . their lands, territories and resources,” the United Nations adopted a special Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It stipulated that indigenous peoples have “collective” as well as individual rights to the full enjoyment of “international human rights law” including the “right to self-determination,” the individual “right to a nationality,” and the right to “live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples.”
To that end, the member States “shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for “any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples” or “dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” Further, it says that “no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” It also says that “indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights” and that when they have been “deprived of their means of subsistence and development [they] are entitled to just and fair redress.”
They have the “right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.” Finally, this Declaration states that all these specifications are but “minimum standards.”
When I consider unauthorized migration through the lenses of these prescriptions for “living in brotherhood,” I see that basic human rights are willfully being denied at every turn. The denials of these rights also are contrary to agreed-upon tenets of international law.
There is consensus among historians who analyze economic policies from the perspective of poor people that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been the primary “push” factor behind the unauthorized migration of poor and indigenous peoples from Latin America to the United States. The Agreement itself acknowledged that small, traditional farmers in Mexico, for example, were to be subjected to competition from heavily subsidized corporate farms in the United States. It acknowledged that by lifting the tariffs that US corporations previously had paid in order to export their products to Mexico, for example, and by removing the supports the Mexican government long had offered traditional farmers when it repealed Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, that large numbers of those farmers would be forced off their lands and into migration.
Subsequent Free Trade Agreements, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the China Trade Agreement, and others have had similar effects. In October, 2011, President Barack Obama signed additional Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. We must anticipate that new Free Trade Agreements will have the same consequences as previous ones, primarily creating more displacements of people and pushing them into migration.
Displacements caused by Free Trade Agreements on a smaller scale have take place within the United States. The devastation of Alabama’s textile industry is a case in point.
A corollary to the signing of NAFTA in 1992 was the militarization of the United States / Mexico border. To date, approximately 6,000 men, women, children, and babies have died as a result of attempting to cross this border. Militarization placed a priority on the sealing off of the urban areas along the border which were the safest paths by which migrants traditionally had entered the US from Latin America.
The theory, articulated in the US Southwest Border Strategy, was that migrants would avoid the militarized urban areas, be pushed into crossing through isolated and dangerous stretches of the border, especially through the Sonora Desert, some would die, word would get back to Latin American communities, and migrants would stop trying to cross. This was articulated as part of its policy of “deterrence.”
In addition, many migrants routinely report being subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment at the hands of border enforcement officials.
Further militarization of the US / MX border has been part of every plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” that has come before the United States Congress in recent years.
The reason migrants cross illegally, risking their dignity, their property, and their lives is because the United States does not allow them to cross legally.
The United States has two legal entry systems.
One is for Canadians and Western Europeans who may cross US borders with only a passport. Another is for Latin Americans, Africans, and most Asians who must have a visa affixed to their passport. These people must qualify by demonstrating that they have both money and title to property in order to cross our borders legally.
The exception to the United States’ ban on poor and indigenous is the H2A or H2B Guest Worker Visa. However, as the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] has made clear, the Guest Worker Program is “Close to Slavery” as its report on the visa was titled. The visa legally binds the worker to the employer who imports the worker. The worker may not legally leave a employer even when the worker is abused. The SPLC accurately describes the program as “indentured servitude” and “human trafficking.”
Major extensions of the Guest Worker Visa have been part of every plan for “comprehensive immigration reform” that has come before the United States Congress in recent years.
Disproportionate numbers of those forced off their lands by Free Trade Agreements and corollary policies and decisions have been indigenous peoples. Many observers note that entire towns in indigenous areas are now ghost towns or towns populated only by young women, children, and elderly people. Studies indicate that a disproportionate number of migrant bodies recovered from the Sonora Desert can be traced back to indigenous areas in southern Mexico and Guatemala, for example.
The requirement that people hold title to land automatically bars indigenous people who live on communally-held lands from coming to the United States legally. Millions of peoples have been displaced in Latin America in particular because of the United States’ own economic policies, especially NAFTA. That the United States and the other signatories, Canada and Mexico, knew this when they signed the Agreement is clear.
This prior knowledge is evident in both the Agreement and in the Southwest Border Strategy.
Now millions of these displaced people are in the United States. They live under the constant threat of deportation. Approximately 2.8 million people have been deported during President Obama’s administration.
The United States Congress has authorized funding to deport 400,000 people a year and to carry this out, has increased funding to the Department of Homeland Security.
The US also has a burgeoning for-profit prison system which is making enormous sums of money from deportations. The heavily-funded deportation system causes great hardship to the ones being deported. In addition, it is tearing apart US citizen families as deported spouses and children are taken from their US citizen family members.
Deportation also has created thousands of citizens in exile–spouses and children who follow their deported or otherwise repatriated loved ones to wait out the bars to returning. Many of these US citizens in exile then become the ones living without lawful status in their loved one’s home country. Bars on the lawful entry of their deported spouses and children, leave many without any hope of being able to live anywhere lawfully as families.
In addition, many are denied the due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and are subjected to racial and ethnic profiling, detention for months without charges, secret hearings, and “streamlined” court trials of which Arizona’s Operation Streamline is a case in point.
Laborers in the United States, Mexico and elsewhere increasingly are being subjected to a range of pressure ranging from “right to work” laws to murder which make it hard for them to bargain collectively and in other ways act in concert for good wages, working conditions, and benefits.Unauthorized laborers in the US also are victimized by abusive practices including workplace raids and electronic legal employment verification systems [e-verify].
An important threat to life for immigrants and migrants, including immigrant and migrant children, in the US was passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996. Stating that there was “a compelling government interest to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits,” for the first time, the 1996 law tied legal immigrants’ eligibility for Medicaid to their length of residency in the US. These restrictions also applied to State Children’s Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP), which was established in 1997. PRWORA and SCHIP subject most immigrants, including legal permanent residents, and migrants to five year bars on eligibility.
What I see in essence is the burgeoning of people who essentially are stateless.
They have no meaningful citizenship anywhere. Their every effort to protect themselves, their families, and their ways of life are being systematically taken from them. Fundamental human rights including the general rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are being systematically taken away. Fundamental human rights including the more specific right to a meaningful nationality, to change nationality, the right to maintain nationality, to maintain ethnic identity, to cross borders legally, not to be held in slavery, not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, not to be deprived of property, to hold property collectively as well as individually, to free choice of employment and favorable conditions of work, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to due process are being systematically denied.
I believe that when these rights are denied, according to international agreement, people whose rights have been denied are entitled to redress.
Plan for redress
I propose the following plan for Comprehensive Migrant Justice. In particular, I ask that the deaths of migrants along the United States / Mexico border be stopped immediately.
1. Create an inexpensive, quickly obtained visa that allows people, including poor people and indigenous people who live on communally-held lands, and without respect to their skill or wage earning prospects, to come to the United States from Latin America, Africa, and Asia
2. De-militarize the US / Mexico border
3. Halt deportations until they can be detached from the Department of Homeland Security, the for-profit prison industry, and quotas
4. Abolish the H2A / H2B Guest Worker Program
5. Stop the signing and implementation of Free Trade Agreements and roll back on those parts which now are in effect
6. Restore due process in removal proceedings
7. Create a lawful status for people without lawful status currently in the United States including, but not limited to, a path to citizenship
8. Aid indigenous people’s recovery of what traditionally have been communally-held lands in Latin America and the repatriation to those lands of those who wish it
9. Strengthen the right to organize and bargain collectively (unionize) by domestic, foreign, and transnational labor
10. Lift the legal bars that have been imposed on deportees’ and otherwise repatriated people’s ability to return to the US, bars which often act as practical bars to their US citizen spouses’ and children’s ability to return
11. Provide redress to the US citizen families of deportees by providing for expenses involved in leaving the countries to which they have entered into exile
12. Lift Medicaid and SCHIP bars to eligibility for immigrants and migrants
Finalized by Ellin Jimmerson, January 12, 2013; amended August 5, 2016
All photographs are of aluminum cutouts by artist, Alfred Quíroz, used by permission. ©Huntsville Immigration Initiative, LLC