Immigration Reform Bill Reason For "Cautious Optimism" But Congress Must Strengthen Human Rights Protections

Press Release
April 18, 2013

Immigration Reform Bill Reason For "Cautious Optimism" But Congress Must Strengthen Human Rights Protections

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-675-8579, @AIUSAmedia

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Justin Mazzola, Amnesty International USA researcher, issued the following statement in response to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, April 17:

"The introduction of a bill that seeks to address some of the many human rights violations associated with immigration enforcement is a critical step in the right direction for Congress. Under the current immigration system, hundreds of migrants die at the border, tens of thousands of immigrants are detained without review and thousands of children are ripped away from their parents due to detention and deportation.

"This first draft is not a panacea, and a hard fight lies ahead to make sure that future amendments and discussions strengthen - not water down - the protections contained in this current draft. Congress must bolster the areas of the legislation that are currently lacking a strong human rights foundation.

"While the United States has every right to ensure security along its borders, it must ensure that any attempts to strengthen border security must respect the obligations of the United States under international law. Hundreds of migrants die while crossing the border every year while Indigenous Peoples whose lands straddle the border are at risk of discrimination and other abuses during border crossings and in dealings with U.S. Border Patrol agents on Tribal lands. Any increase in border security must respect the right to life of migrants and must be developed in close consultation with Tribal Nations in order to ensure protection of their rights.

"Though the bill includes a provision that prevents racial or ethnic profiling by federal agents in the context of immigration enforcement, the prohibition is limited by exceptions which render this requirement toothless. The bill does not address the lack of oversight for and vast expansion in using local law enforcement as an entry point for the enforcement of immigration laws. This reliance on local law enforcement places entire communities at increased risk of racial profiling and makes societies less safe, as immigrants will be reluctant to report crimes due to fear of deportation."

Amnesty International believes that an immigration policy that respects human rights will include the following:

  • Provide a formal process through which undocumented people can obtain legal status. A clear legalization pathway will protect immigrants' rights.
  • Place immigrants and their communities at the center of the debate on immigration by recognizing and ensuring their role in formulating and implementing strategies to protect their rights.
  • Review and revise border control policies and practices to ensure they are compliant with the United States' obligations under international law and standards, including the right to life. All immigration laws, policies and practices at the border must also respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and adhere to the standards set in the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Suspend federal immigration enforcement programs that involve collaboration with state and local law enforcement agencies until it can be determined that the programs can be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. Immigration laws must not place citizens of Indigenous Nations, members of Latino communities and others who are U.S. citizens or who are lawfully in the United States at increased risk of racial profiling.
  • Detention should be a tool of last resort, and every immigrant and asylum seeker must get a hearing to determine the necessity of custody.
  • Reform immigration policies that unnecessarily separate families. Immigration judges should have the authority to review all decisions to detain immigrants and the discretion to stop deportation in the interest of family unity, including families headed by same-sex couples. To ensure fairness, these decisions should be subject to federal court review.
  • Protect the rights of immigrants most at risk of crime and human rights abuses, including undocumented immigrants, immigrant women and immigrant children.
  • Fully guarantee immigrant workers' labor rights, including the right to join unions.

In 2012, Amnesty International USA released In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest where it documented that tens of thousands of people suffer in U.S. detention facilities every year without a court hearing to determine whether their detention is warranted. In just over a decade, the number of immigrants in detention each day has tripled, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year - even though effective and less costly options are available.

In its 2009 report, Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA, Amnesty International revealed that in the U.S. Southwest, communities living along the border are disproportionately affected by a range of immigration control measures, resulting in a pattern of human rights violations, including the risk of discriminatory profiling.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.