Immigrants Have Inherent Human Rights

MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, organized a two-hour silent demonstration on Cornell University’s Arts Quad on November 20, 2013, protesting against a racist game criminalizing undocumented immigrants at UT Austin. CUSLAR student interns Kimberly Cardenas and Diana Folla stand holding a poster of MEChA, wearing  shirts that say “Undocumented” in the front and “No Human Being Is Illegal” in the back, to illustrate their solidarity. Photo: MEChA.

MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, organized a two-hour silent demonstration on Cornell University’s Arts Quad on November 20, 2013, protesting against a racist game criminalizing undocumented immigrants at UT Austin. CUSLAR student interns Kimberly Cardenas and Diana Folla stand holding a poster of MEChA, wearing  shirts that say “Undocumented” in the front and “No Human Being Is Illegal” in the back, to illustrate their solidarity. Photo: MEChA.

by Kimberly Cardenas, Committee on U.S. Latin American Relations

Human migration is a global issue in today’s world. As such, many argue that it should be dealt with as an issue of human rights — rights that all people, including migrants, inherently have. The human rights framework re-centers the immigration debate around the wellbeing of migrants themselves.

The United Nations, a central proponent of the human rights framework, states: “International human rights instruments and standards provide a broad framework for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms of all human beings, including migrants.”

In addition to the UN, organizations such as Amnesty International and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, or PICUM, argue that migrants have rights regardless of the national laws that affect them in their respective countries.

Documents such as the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families concern undocumented workers and the rights they have in the workplace and in more generally in the country where they reside.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has specifically stated that “the protection of
migrants is an urgent and growing human rights challenge: “Governments have obligations to ensure that xenophobic violence, racism and related intolerance against migrants and their communities have no place in their societies.”

Other mechanisms at the UN include the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, who receives cases regarding violations and contacts governments to address such issues, and the Committee on Migrant Workers. Both “have been clear in stating that although countries have a sovereign right to determine conditions of entry and stay in their territories, they also have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction.”

PICUM’s mission is to promote awareness of undocumented migrants’ rights and to ensure that national legislation is in accordance with international human rights law.

Amnesty International USA, another organization that fights for human rights in
the US at both the state and federal level, claims that the United States is falling behind on advocating, and even providing, essential human rights for migrants.

Amnesty’s 2012 report, “Hostile Terrain: Human rights violations in immigration enforcement in the US Southwest,” delineates numerous human rights violations to undocumented immigrants, including: undocumented immigrants being forced into using dangerous border-crossing routes due to recent immigration policy, increased racial profiling, denial of education and health services, and vulnerability to human trafficking and domestic violence.

Still, there is precedent in U.S. courts in which immigrants’ rights have been protected, regardless of legal status. The 14th Amendment has been a source for such human rights protections and is demonstrated in the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe. The case illustrated that undocumented immigrants have certain rights that cannot be denied by the state, such as education. The Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that prohibited undocumented students from attending public school. The Court’s decision was that undocumented students could appeal to the 14th Amendment: “no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

In 2004, Argentina passed Law 25.871, which states that migration is a human right. The law gives constitutional and human rights protections to all immigrants within the country, and “guarantees the rights to equal treatment, nondiscrimination, and access to educational, medical, and social services.” Nonetheless, the federal government has yet to provide regulations that ensure that Law 25.871 is upheld and fully implemented.

Human rights apply to all people no matter where they are on the planet, yet it is an ongoing struggle to ensure governments guarantee and protect these rights. International advocacy organizations and many migrants themselves have been adamant and active in vocalizing concerns that governments simply are not doing enough to ensure that undocumented immigrants are being treated in accordance with their rights. It remains vital to the future of our humanity to treat the immigration issue in the United States under a framework of human rights. After all, we are all inherently equal as human beings, regardless of immigration status.

This article is part of the CUSLAR Summer/Fall 2014 Newsletter. To access this and previous newsletters, go to https://cuslar.org/resources/cuslar-newsletter-since-1974/

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