The key elements of a successful immigration policy

When writing immigration policy in the US, legislators should pay attention to international human rights standards.

The United States Congress – both the Senate and the House – has had regular hearings on immigration matters during the month of March. The Democrats and Republicans finally seem as if they may be able to reach an accord on immigration policy – after nearly a decade of impasse.

When it is time to sit down and write immigration policy in the United States, legislators would do well to pay attention to international human rights standards. After all, a central goal of US foreign policy is to promote human rights around the world. The United States can turn that moral compass inward and look to international standards when it reforms immigration policy.

Four human rights violations in US immigration policy

There are four key human rights violations embodied in US immigration policy and practice: 1) The right to form a family; 2) the right to due process; 3) the right to freedom from arbitrary detention; and 4) the right to not experience cruel or unusual punishment. These rights are enshrined both in human rights treaties that the United States has signed and ratified, as well as those to which the United States is not party.

The US government has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). It has signed, but not ratified, the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). Finally, as a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), the United States is party to the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (The American Declaration). All of these documents contain provisions applicable to the treatment of immigrants.

The United States is well-known for its refusal to sign human rights treaties. Even when it does sign and ratify them, it does with a provision that they are not self-executing – meaning that they are not enforceable within the United States. Nevertheless, when the United States signs a treat, this implies a commitment to the treaty’s principles. We can thus use international human rights standards to evaluate US immigration policies.

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