Immigration Reform Must Respect the Rights of Immigrants, Not Sideline Them

Press Release
January 28, 2013

Immigration Reform Must Respect the Rights of Immigrants, Not Sideline Them

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

(Washington, D.C.) – Frank Jannuzi, Amnesty International USA deputy executive director, issued the following statement in response to the proposed comprehensive immigration blueprint developed and introduced by several U.S Senators today:

"A thorough overhaul of the United States' confusing, dysfunctional and discriminatory immigration system is long overdue.

"Any restructuring must assure respect for fundamental human rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination and arbitrary detention. For too long, many immigrants have endured human rights violations during the process of apprehension, detention and deportation. Many more have been exploited by abusive employers and traffickers.

"We have been down this road before – a great deal of brouhaha about reform followed by political gridlock and disappointment. This time around, failure is not an option.”

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

  • Provide a formal process through which undocumented people can obtain legal status. A clear legalization pathway will protect immigrants' rights, reduce labor exploitation, and promote social cohesion.
  • 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. To ensure fairness, these decisions should be subject to federal court review.
  • 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.
  • Ensure that enforcement actions against immigrants respect human rights. Detention should be a tool of last resort, and every immigrant and asylum seeker must get a hearing to determine the necessity of custody.
  • Protect the rights of immigrants most at risk of human rights abuses, including undocumented immigrants, immigrant women and immigrant children.
  • Fully guarantee immigrant workers'labor rights, including the right to join unions.
  • 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.

In 2009, Amnesty International USA released Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA and last year published In Hostile Terrain: Human Rights Violations in Immigration Enforcement in the U.S. Southwest. Both reports demonstrated that human rights violations are committed by the government during apprehension, detention and deportation. Amnesty International has 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 -- even though effective and less costly options are available.

Also, a recent study undertaken by Amnesty International in the Southwest revealed that 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.