Recently in Human Rights Category

Undoccupy Oakland.jpg

[Undocumented activists occupy Obama campaign office in Oakland, CA / Image: Krsna Avila]

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today issued instructions to federal immigration agencies not to deport undocumented youth who meet certain criteria. The criteria are based on the provisions of the proposed DREAM Act. President Obama announced the policy change at the White House soon afterward.

The new policy, if implemented, would provide temporary relief to many undocumented youth in the United States. Undocumented organizers who fought for their rights and their communities deserve the credit for today's policy change.

But I worry that this announcement, like those before it, is intended to improve poll numbers more than to benefit undocumented families. I am skeptical because DHS is institutionally oriented towards deporting people and because this administration has made deportations its number one immigration policy priority. Serious questions about the new policy remain unanswered.

Update 6/22/12: Click through for a Spanish translation of this post.

Here are some pros and cons of the new policy guidance:

jess-and-tania.jpgThe Obama administration has criticized the GOP's "attrition through enforcement" immigration policy framework while adopting it in practice. Undocumented activists have reduced their reliance on politicians and the advocacy community by strategically creating a quasi-legal status for people who publicly identify themselves as undocumented.

Attrition Through Enforcement

Immigration restrictionists have promoted an "attrition through enforcement" policy as a purportedly more humane alternative to mass incarceration and deportation. Instead of identifying, arresting, imprisoning, and deporting every undocumented immigrant in the U.S., the objective of attrition through enforcement is to make life in the U.S. so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they leave on their own. An aggressive campaign to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to live in the U.S. would be logistically and fiscally unworkable and would necessitate massive human rights violations.

Imagine armies of tens of thousands of immigration enforcement agents scouring the country for people unable to produce papers, internment camps set up to house millions of immigrants awaiting deportation, and millions of U.S. citizen children left parentless overnight. This would be the administration's current enforcement policy implemented on a much larger scale, causing severe economic and social disruption that would extend far beyond the immigrant community.

Restrictionists understand that the domestic and international public backlash from such a campaign would undermine their long-term goal of reducing overall immigration to the U.S. Restrictionists know it is impossible to fully enforce the laws they wrote and shepherded through Congress. Attrition through enforcement aims instead to drive out immigrants by creating a climate of fear and by steadily eroding basic rights. The concept is as pragmatic as it is reprehensible.

Birthright Lottery cover

Last year, I read Ayelet Shachar's important book, The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality.  She discusses the book herself here, and I won't replicate that concise summary (though it is worth reading).  The book's core insights are powerful:

  • Birthright citizenship is a form of property entitlement by which relatively wealthy people transfer a bundle of rights and opportunities to their children.  

  • The global citizenship regime acts to seal poor people into enclosed political and economic systems which limit their life opportunities.  The result of these limitations, backed by the full force of the sovereign state, is that only 3% of the global population migrate from their countries of origin. 
  • This regime is unjust.  It is based solely on accident of birth.  It is grossly inconsistent with democratic principles held in liberal societies.  
Shachar's premises seem obvious once seen in print, and  you wonder why these ideas aren't more widely acknowledged.  In Birthright Lottery, she builds a new legal framework for defining citizenship based on those premises.  

The existing citizenship regime is built upon two legal principles: jus soli (citizenship defined by place of birth) and jus sanguinis (citizenship defined by blood).  These principles represent an improvement upon previous regimes based on transfer of rights and property within bounded family groups alone, and have led to a just legal and political theoretical framework within liberal sovereign polities. 

But the framework falls apart in an anarchic international political system of sovereign states of radically disparate wealth and power, and becomes instead a mechanism for perpetuating inequality.  Those who are excluded from the citizenry of wealthy states do not have political equality or equality of opportunity.  Meanwhile, a global educated elite can travel, and often live and work, abroad.  Members of the cosmopolitan elite have easier access to membership in polities outside of their countries of origin.  They can freely transfer capital across sovereign boundaries.  They are not constrained by the international political system; rather, the system works to preserve the elite's wealth and status much as the aristocratic transfer system of Old Europe did in years past.  

Shachar proposes a new legal principle for defining political membership groups: jus nexi.  This new framework would "[establish] that the social fact of membership offers a valid foundation for access to political membership" and would "[highlight] the significance of developing ties and identification with the country over time as the basis for bestowing citizenship and its benefits on long-term residents."

The 2011 Citizens Medal will recognize U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service outside of their regular jobs, including individuals who meet the criteria listed at the bottom of this post. Nominations must be received by Monday, May 30, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

I nominated Mohammad Abdollahi, co-founder of and DreamIsComing and undocumented activist. Here is the application I submitted tonight:

Explain why your nominee should receive the Citizens Medal based on the criteria outlined here:

Mo has a demonstrated commitment to service in his community. He co-founded and has helped stop the deportations of dozens of other undocumented Americans through peaceful organizing.

Mo helped his country through extraordinary acts. He helped organize and was one of the participants in the first civil disobedience action carried out by undocumented activists in the United States who had no previous contact with immigration enforcement, at Senator McCain's Tucson office in May 2010. He then continued to organize further actions, along with other committed undocumented and citizen activists, to motivate elected officials to move the DREAM Act forward in 2010.

Mo's service relates to a long-term or persistent problem. The current immigration laws penalize those brought here as children, Americans in all but name, and mandate their exile. Elected officials have not found the courage to address this problem, so undocumented youth like Mo have taken responsibility for their own futures.

DREAMActivist Pennsylvania held a rally on Saturday in Philadelphia at which six undocumented Pennsylvanians came out of the shadows, disclosing their immigration status publicly to the supporters and reporters in attendance. The Dreamers spoke, some through tears, of the anger and frustration they feel about their situation: of not being able to drive, travel, or vote. Of living in fear of deportation and permanent separation from their loved ones.

But each speaker also sounded a note of hope, and some were openly defiant. The theme of the rally was "undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic." That defiance was expressed through action when the speakers led supporters from the rally site in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the ICE Investigations Office located a few blocks away. An ICE suburban was parked in front, a visible symbol of the detention and deportation regime that targets Dreamers and their families. Several anxious uniformed officers guarded the building, which was closed for the weekend, as though the marchers were going to storm and ransack it. ICE is not used to being challenged by its prey.

In front of the ICE office, Dreamers and allies deposited diplomas into a coffin marked "Broken Dreams" to symbolize the death of their dreams under the current oppressive immigration legal system. They chanted and yelled and sang. The mood was one of exuberance. The speakers who had shed tears earlier were smiling now. ICE was present, but did nothing. The nativists who clog comments sections of articles about immigration were entirely absent. The politicians who claim to support immigrant communities were nowhere to be seen.

Though the DREAM Act was voted down last year, Dreamers haven't gone anywhere, they are here and stronger than ever. Local Spanish-language media was at Saturday's rally in force; the journalists at Univision and Al Dia have grasped the civil rights messaging at the heart of the DREAM Act movement and are broadcasting it to their audiences. Leaders who ignore or diminish Dreamers do so at their political peril.

[Video: Raul Romero/seesawfilms]

Fighting deportation to an almost certain death: the Bulatov Family.

What happens when a country with significant oil supplies is considered to be an ally of the United States but is, according to Wikileaks, riddled with corruption and mafia-style autocratic rule?  Lately we've been hearing a lot about what has been going in the Middle East due to media coverage of the recent pro-democracy populist movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and now in Lybia to break free from despotic rule.  Yet, we have not heard very much about what is going in Central Asia, where it appears that authoritarianism is alive and well, post-Soviet era.  In Kazakhstan, it is currently a crime to insult its President and it seems that even our own U.S. government has been trying to call for a more open government in that country but doing so very carefully so as to not "offend" Kazakhstan's President too much


When the Soviet Union fell, the western world rejoiced at the prospect of freedom and democracy coming to the former Soviet Republics; but what progress has been made towards this end?  In the case of Kazakhstan, its oil and gas supplies have been opened to capitalist markets, and that is almost certainly viewed by Wall Street as "progress".  Yet, the country's record on civil rights has lagged behind, having a direct impact on the livelihood of its citizens to the point that some of them have been seeing themselves as having no other choice but to flee to the United States in fear of their very lives.  So what has really changed since the fall of the Soviet Union?  Who are the rulers of Kazakhstan and what are their relationships to U.S.-based business interests?      

U.S. support of dictators in Arab countries has for decades highlighted the contrast between America's words and its deeds on democracy. Now that system is under stress across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, as people take to the streets to protest their governments.

Youth organized online and then on the streets in Egypt, as tens of thousands of protesters in recent days have challenged the autocratic government of Hosni Mubarak. Al Jazeera in Tunisia broadcast user-generated videos of police abuse found on Facebook, which then inspired others to film and distribute their own content, which fed the cycle.

It is inspiring to see oppressed people take their futures back from a corrupt elite. One day the oppressed in Egypt or Yemen may find they have more in common with the dispossessed in Arizona or Guatemala than their own venal rulers. If so, it'll probably happen on Facebook or something like it.

Former U.S.-supported Haitian dictator and thief "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned to Haiti this week after 25 years in exile, and President Obama resumed U.S. deportations to Haiti. The deportees will be detained upon arrival in life-threatening conditions in violation of U.S. human rights obligations.

One of the deportees was Lyglenson Lemorin, a lawful permanent resident and Haitian citizen who the federal government had charged with forming a terrorist plot. Lemorin was acquitted by a jury of all criminal charges, but ICE took a second bite at the apple and kept him jailed on immigration charges. Charles Kuck, past AILA president, represented Lemorin:

"Mr. Lemorin's removal is a high water mark in the injustice inherent in our broken immigration system," Charles H. Kuck, his attorney, said. "Deporting an innocent man should never be condoned."

But deporting innocent people is a bipartisan endeavor, one that President Obama has endorsed each day of his administration.

From Imagine2050 comes word of the Freedom from Fear Award, "a new national award that will honor ordinary people who commit extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees."

Fifteen individuals who have contributed to the immigrant rights movement will be chosen to receive the award and a $5,000 prize. Nominations close February 28. Here is the nomination form.

It's likely that many readers of this blog know a Dreamer whose local group could use $5,000, no strings attached, to build capacity and push for progressive immigration reform. Or a Dreamer who could, with that money, afford to take some time off from waiting tables or selling fast food to organize full time. Or to cover some of next semester's tuition. So let the nominations commence!

Jaya Ramji-Nogales discusses a pair of recent European court decisions applying provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the children of migrants. Most strikingly, a Dutch appellate court recently prevented the Dutch government from placing a failed asylum-seeker's children in foster care to facilitate their mother's deportation. According to Ramji-Nogales, "The court decided that the children's right to family unity overrode the state interest in immigration enforcement." Ramji-Nogales sums up:

For those of us beyond the jurisdiction of the ECHR, the decisions offer a tantalizing glimpse of the impact of a robust supranational human rights regime on domestic law and policy on the treatment of migrants. And though the holdings are modest, the use of human rights language with respect to undocumented immigrants and their children and the explicit prioritizing of their rights as individuals over the state's interest in enforcement (as compared to the federal preemption analyses used to assess the rights of immigrants in recent U.S. decisions) holds significant expressive power.

Julianne Hing, guest blogging at the Atlantic, struggles with the tension between the quest for the Perfect Immigrant and the reality of imperfect human beings. I was raised in a religious household, and sometimes scriptures still pop into my head. Reading Hing's post and some of the inevitable anti-immigrant comments it triggered, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" comes to mind.

And via Dee at Immigration Talk, reggaeton artists Wisin & Yandel created a music video to accompany their song "Estoy Enamorado" that captures the migrant struggle in a way too rarely seen in mainstream popular culture.

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