Below is The Advocates for Human Rights’ official statement submitted to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, December 10 (International Human Rights Day), 2014.
“The Advocates for Human Rights is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights in our home community and around the world. The Advocates for Human Rights has provided free legal representation to asylum seekers, investigated and reported on human rights violations, and engaged volunteers in building respect for human rights since 1983.
“The United States is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are equal in rights and dignity, no matter what they look like or where they came from. These values are echoed in our obligation to respect the fundamental rights of all persons without discrimination, regardless of national origin, citizenship, or immigration status.1
“International law recognizes that while the United States has the right to control immigration that right is tempered by its obligations to respect the fundamental human rights of all persons. With few exceptions, the United States may not discriminate on the basis of national origin, race, or other status. In designing and enforcing its immigration laws, fundamental human rights, including the right to family unity,2 must be protected.
“The United States’ immigration system, while generous in many ways, is riddled with systemic failures to protect human rights. Some violations result from the statutory framework itself, while others are a matter of administrative policy or agency practice. The United States, through the federal executive branch, has the authority and the obligation to address human rights violations, including through the issuance or updating of administrative guidance, policies, procedures, or regulations to ensure that they strengthen compliance with international human rights standards. At the same time, the United States Congress must take steps to amend laws which violate human rights standards.
“United States immigration policy fails, at nearly every turn, to respect the right to protection of the family and other fundamental human rights. For example, every year tens of thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children3 are deported from the United States because U.S. law does not allow the consideration of family ties in most deportation cases. Individuals frequently are detained without regard to family ties. Thousands of family members languish in line for visas or with little hope of reunification following deportation.
“Congress must take action on immigration to bring our laws into conformance both with our values and our human rights obligations. This includes restoring judicial discretion to immigration judges; providing a meaningful opportunity for parents facing deportation to make care-giving decisions and participate in child custody proceedings; allowing waivers for family reunification for people following deportation; sensibly revising the family-based immigration system to reduce long backlogs; and creating a legalization program that allows families now living in the United States to stay together.
“While Congress must act to ensure U.S. law meets human rights standards, so to must the Administration. The President’s November announcement that certain undocumented persons who have U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien children will be a low deportation priority is a meaningful, if limited, step toward this compliance.
“While the Administration’s move to protect family unity is welcome, its decision to continue the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum is of grave concern. Just days before the announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the Administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year. This action not only violates the obligation to protect the family, but raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and due process of law. The Administration’s detention of families, deliberately designed to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection, also violates our obligations under the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.
“Our immigration laws, policies, and practices must reflect our most deeply held values: that each of us is inherently worthy of dignity, fair treatment, and respect for human rights. Both Congress and the President must act to protect these values.”
1 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 2(1).
2 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 17 and 23, articulate the right to freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with the family and recognition that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
3 See, e.g., Human Impact Partners, Family Unity, Family Health: How Family-Focused Immigration Reform Will Mean Better Health for Children and Families, June 2013, available at
http://www.familyunityfamilyhealth.org/uploads/images/FamilyUnityFamilyHealth.pdf, which estimates that over 152,000 U.S. children are impacted by deportations each year using 2012 deportation numbers.
The official statement was drafted by Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.