“During Apartheid, we were not white enough to enjoy our full human rights, and now, we are not black enough.”

South African laws and practices have discriminated against the minority Coloured community, especially their economic, social and cultural rights with respect to employment and housing, as well as the right to freedom of expression. The Advocates for Human Rights, along with our partner organization Camissa Movement for Equality, went to the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise our concerns in advance of South Africa’s Universal Periodic Review on May 10, 2017.

South African human rights defender Jerome Lottering presented this oral statement on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights and Camissa Movement for Equality at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 22 March 2017.

Mr. [Vice] President

The Advocates for Human Rights, in collaboration with Camissa Movement, would like to thank the Council for its attention to mainstreaming human rights into public policies and to monitoring their implementation. As noted in the High Commissioner’s report, “leaving no one behind should be a key principle in the design and implementation of national policies.”

South Africa’s laws are designed to promote the human rights of the black population through affirmative action. In practice, however, these laws exclude the coloured people of South Africa. Coloured people are a distinct ethnic group of mixed race individuals. The legislation only refers to “black” people as a group. This allows stakeholders to only apply laws to black persons, thus excluding the coloured population from the very laws intended to help them. These laws and other policies are curtailing the human rights of coloured people to education, employment, and housing.

During Apartheid, we were not white enough to enjoy our full human rights, and now, we are not black enough. Even though laws are designed to affirmatively promote the rights of black people, they discriminate against the coloured people in practice. South Africa needs tools to monitor the implementation of laws, including a data tracking system with separate indicators for black, white, and coloured populations. We urge South Africa to monitor the implementation of its laws to avoid unintended consequences and safeguard the human rights of all persons, including the Coloured people of South Africa.

Thank you.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of South Africa will take place on Wednesday, May 10, from 14:30-18:00 in Geneva, Switzerland.  The UPR session will be webcast live at this link: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/30th-regular-session-of-the-human-rights-council/4473498400001.  )Later that day it will be posted in the archives of UN WebTV: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/) The Advocates will be livetweeting the recommendations made to South Africa on Twitter @The_Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with partner organization Camissa Movement for Equality and Mondé World Films, submitted a UPR stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 that addresses South Africa’s failure to protect the rights of minority group members. South African laws and practices have discriminated against the Coloured community, especially their economic, social and cultural rights with respect to employment and housing, as well as the right to freedom of expression.  The report makes recommendations that steps be taken to reduce and/or eliminate such discriminatory treatment of Coloured people in South Africa. Such steps include reform in the use of “target” percentages in employment plans, investigation into discrimination in subsidized housing application, and equal access to state media.

Read more about discrimination against the Coloured people of South Africa in the joint submission of The Advocates for Human Rights, Camissa Movement for Equality and Mondé World Films to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

 

 

 

Uncovering hidden obstacles to the rights of persons with disabilities in Iran

IMG_3551The Advocates for Human Rights offers volunteers a remarkable and rewarding breadth of opportunities to effect change around the world. As an example, I recently had a chance to advocate for the rights of Iranians with disabilities when I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland with The Advocates to lobby the United Nations Human Rights Council on a variety of human rights issues.

A Persian Proverb says “A blind person who sees is better than a seeing person who is blind”:  Uncovering hidden obstacles to the rights of persons with disabilities in Iran.

Iran Under Review by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was considering the  initial report submitted by Iran since its adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. In its report, and its opening remarks to the Committee, Iran painted a rosy picture of its progress in removing obstacles and providing greater equality and support for persons with disabilities.

Even without digging beneath the surface, though, the language of those documents displayed a continuing view that persons with disabilities are lesser beings. The State reported as an accomplishment, for example, that premarital genetic testing is required for all couples in Iran “in order to prevent the birth of children with disabilities.”

It is difficult to assess thoroughly the status of human rights in Iran because of the lack of independent civil society or non-governmental organizations (NGOs, like The Advocates) working on the ground there. Instead, Iran has what are called “GONGOs,” for “government-organized non-governmental organizations.” GONGOs often purport to act as watchdogs, but in reality they are mechanisms of the State. Members of our group were actively pursued and questioned by an Iranian GONGO whose representatives were very interested in finding out what we planned to tell the CRPD.

 Persons with Disabilities and the Death Penalty 

Despite the difficulties, The Advocates were able to identify and report on several specific areas of concern.  They presented to the CRPD a shadow report that addressed issues related to the justice system. Iran provides no procedural safeguards in its death penalty process for individuals with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities. Those familiar with U.S. death penalty law know that there is a significant body of case law addressing the execution of defendants with such disabilities, including a number of Supreme Court decisions. The Advocates urged the CRPD to recommend that Iran suspend its death penalty for people with these disabilities, and take steps to ensure proper safeguards in future cases. While opposing the death penalty in all instances, The Advocates sought a recommendation that the law not provide lesser punishments for crimes against victims with disabilities.

Private Briefings and Public Hearings

I attended an interesting private briefing, during which The Advocates’ Amy Bergquist provided members of the CRPD with details on Iran’s use of amputation as a punishment for certain crimes, such as theft.  Examples were given of the amputation of fingers, hands or feet, and the use of chemical blinding.  The defendant may not have any disabilities when the sentence is given, but is left afterward with a disability imposed by the government. Since defendants are often poor and lack education, this likely leaves them with little ability to find work.  The stigma associated with this visible disability and its well-understood origin put the individual at a severe disadvantage for life.

I was also able to attend public hearings at which Iran’s delegation responded to a list of issues and concerns raised by the CRPD. Some of the questions touched on issues discussed at our earlier private briefing. Most of the answers were vague and circular, providing little in the way of actual facts and data, despite specific requests for these, or evidence of progress.  There was a great deal of talk about meetings, trainings, brochures and pamphlets, and more meetings, but seemingly little in the way of concrete results. Some CRPD members pointedly remarked on the lack of answers.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

The outcomes of the process, the CRPD’s “concluding observations”  were published in April. I was pleased to see that the CRPD included concerns and recommendations on issues that had been raised by The Advocates, as well as on LGBT rights.  The CRPD’s stated concerns included “the enforcement of mutilation as a form of criminal sentence, and the stigmatization against persons who have impairment as a consequence of such punishment,” as raised in our private briefing.

The CRPD also noted that “persons with disabilities, particularly persons with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities may be at risk of facing a greater risk of death penalty due to lack of procedural accommodations, in criminal proceedings,” as addressed in The Advocates’ shadow report.

The CRPD also expressed concern about “discrimination against persons perceived to have a disability, including on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, being forced to undergo medical treatment.”

One of the lessons of this work has been the need for and value of patience. UN treaty bodies like the CRPD can’t simply order a country to change its conduct. The language of international diplomacy sometimes seems, to a newcomer like me, less strong than it ought to be. But participants in the process understand expressions of “concern” to indicate that the requirements of the convention are, in the CRPD’s opinion, not being upheld. Accompanying recommendations for resolving these concerns will be the subject of thorough review in the future, and Iran will be required to account for its implementation of, or failure to implement them.

International scrutiny, and international pressure, can change the course of a country’s conduct as the flow of water erodes rock and changes a river’s course. The change is incremental, but real and lasting.

By Lisa Borden, Birmingham-based Pro Bono Shareholder at Baker Donelson where her own pro bono legal work focuses on representation of indigent death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings.  Ms. Borden volunteers with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program and traveled to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates’ team in March 2017 and March 2015.

Hate groups, incidents proliferating in U.S., The Advocates tells UN Human Rights Council

The increase in hate groups in the United States and the rise in incidents targeting migrants, refugees, and other groups were the focus of an oral statement made to the United Nations Human Rights Council by The Advocates for Human Rights.  The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt delivered the following oral statement on March 17, 2017 during the Human Rights Council’s debate on racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration.

Mr. President:

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the rise in incidents targeting migrants, refugees, and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the United States, as well as the proliferation of hate groups.  Of greatest concern, however, is that some who have actively supported racist and xenophobic positions have assumed powerful leadership and advisory roles in the executive branch, lending an air of legitimacy to those views.

Recent changes to immigration policy raise serious concerns about racial and national origin profiling by the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE “deports by attrition” by making undocumented migrants fearful of remaining in the U.S. Indeed, ICE arrests have increased sharply and we have received numerous reports of people being taken into custody outside courtrooms, in vehicles, and at their homes.

Local law enforcement has turned over thousands to ICE following traffic stops or other encounters. To facilitate removal, ICE routinely interrogates these migrants without counsel, intimidating them into agreeing to be deported without a hearing. An estimated 75% of deportees waive all legal rights, including claims to asylum, protection under CAT, and claims based on family unity.

These policies erode trust between immigrants and law enforcement, a trust many communities have worked to build in the interest of public safety.  Yet the administration’s January 25 executive order on domestic immigration enforcement would bar federal funding to jurisdictions that adopt community policing policies.

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the profiling and religious discrimination inherent in the administration’s most recent attempt to ban entry of people from 6 majority-Muslim countries and to halt the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. People who are or are perceived to be Muslim report facing additional scrutiny upon entry into the U.S. and their family members living abroad face an uncertain future.

The Advocates for Human Rights encourages the Human Rights Council to keep this issue at the forefront of its agenda.  Further, we call on all Member States, including the United States, to honor non-refoulement obligations and ensure that national immigration policies, as well as law enforcement practices, do not discriminate based on race, national origin or other status.

Thank you.

 

Welcome Home Blog Series:  Providing opportunities for Cambodians in Minnesota, honoring survivors of the Khmer Rouge

This is the second in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. Additional articles can be found here.

UCAM flags

Minnesotans celebrated the Cambodian New Year in April at a day-long event in Mendota Heights featuring live music, drums, traditional dances, and Cambodian cuisine.

But those festivities bracketed a more solemn activity, an annual “Day of Remembrance” to honor victims of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. This year, the ceremony paid tribute to survivors who worked with the Advocates for Human Rights to provide information about human-rights abuses for submission to a war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC).

UCAM

Each received a Certificate of Recognition for telling their stories, a process that allowed them to put their experiences on the record.

 

 

Many Cambodians keep their memories bottled up, which is not healthy, says Yorn Yan, executive director of the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota (UCAM), which worked with the Advocates on the project. So he tells them: “Number one, you document your own story, then you feel better.” Second, “Then your document will stay with you forever and your children, your grandchildren will see it, it’s not a fake story. That’s a benefit for society in general.”

Yorn Yan’s father was among an estimated 1.7 million to 2.2 million Cambodians killed by the Khmer Rouge during their 1975-1979 reign. He fled to Thailand after the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1978 and eventually made his way to Minnesota, along with three brothers, two sisters, and their mother.

UCAM, which sponsored the New Year’s event at its offices, is a nonprofit that aims to promote opportunity for the state’s Cambodian community, which numbers about 10,000. UCAM was created in 1993 from the merger of two existing Cambodian organizations. Yorn Yan has been executive director since 2005, taking the reins after it suffered a crisis.  He has a master’s degree in nonprofit management and administration, is author of the book New Americans, New Promise: A Guide to the Refugee Journey in America, and board president of the National American Cambodian Organization.

UCAM has nine employees but gets support from 300 volunteers, including a number of medical and mental-health professionals, and serves about 1,500 clients a year. Funding comes from the Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging.

It gets half of its revenue from fees for services provided by its Adult Day Care program, which offers health, social, and other services to Cambodian elders. Many of them are in poor health from the strains of living through civil war, the Khmer Rouge, and life in refugee camps. They have high rates of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, mental health problems, and other chronic diseases that lead to strokes and heart attacks.

The Khmer Rouge era began just 42 years ago, Yorn Yan says, so many people age 50 or above continue to suffer trauma.  “The starvation, the killing, the loss of loved ones, all of those bring poor health,” he says.

UCAM’s other programs are Elder Independent Living, Youth Development, Health Education, and  Immigration. Under a five-year strategic plan it adopted in 2015, the organization is working to transition from one whose primary function was refugee resettlement to one that works to strengthen health, social, education, and economic opportunities for Cambodians and other refugee groups in Minnesota. One of its goals: develop new programs to help second- and third-generation Minnesota Cambodians understand their cultural values and traditions while still providing services for the elders.

When asked about main challenges, Yorn Yan says UCAM is trying to “do more with less” since the demand for services remains strong but federal and state funding has shrunk over the years.

The Advocates’ work with the Cambodian community began in 1990 when the organization helped conduct a mock trial at the Minnesota State Capitol of the Khmer Rouge leadership for the crime of genocide. The mock trial led to the Khmer Oral History Project, during which The Advocates’ volunteers interviewed 15 members of the Cambodian refugee community on videotape about their experiences during the years of the genocide, their experiences in refugee camps, and their emigration to the United States. Those interviews took place in 1992 and are available online at the Minnesota History Center. This year, the Center for Justice and Accountability asked The Advocates to interview participants in the Khmer Oral History Project and submit their information to the ECCC. The Advocates also worked with UCAM to identify Khmer Rouge survivors interested in sharing their information with the ECCC.

Twenty-two members of the Cambodian diaspora in Minnesota, including many who had participated in the mock trial and oral history project, provided detailed information about the crimes they experienced between 1975 and 1979 for the ECCC’s investigation. The interviews were conducted by James O’Neal, vice chair of The Advocates; Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director; and Amy Bergquist, International Justice Program staff attorney. They were aided by volunteer translator David Chor.

David Chor and Yorn Yan of UCAM will be recognized for their contributions to documenting the stories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Minnesota’s Cambodian community with volunteer awards at The Advocates’ Human Rights Awards Dinner on June 15, 2017.

UNITED CAMBODIAN ASSOCIATION OF MINNESOTA
Website: http://ucamn.org/
Email: info@ucamn.org
Volunteer opportunities: The group welcomes volunteers, especially with legal or medical credentials. Contact Yorn Yan at YornYan @comcast.net.

By Suzanne Perry, volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.  This is the second in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota.  The first article highlighted the contributions of the Karen Organization of Minnesota.

India’s failure to protect religious minorities

India is the world’s largest democracy and a pluralistic melting pot of different religions, cultures, and languages. Yet there has been an alarming rise in discrimination and violence against religious minorities in India. The Advocates for Human Rights, along with our partner organizations, went to the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise our concerns in advance of India’s Universal Periodic Review on May 4, 2017.

Indian human rights defender Teesta Setalvad presented this oral statement on religious minorities in India at the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, and the Quill Foundation.  The oral statement was made on March 15, 2017 at the Human Rights Council’s Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. 

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with its partner organizations Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the Quill Foundation, commend the Special Rapporteur for her report. We thank her for her work over her six-year tenure.

We recall the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 General Assembly report, and the first pillar of minority rights protection: protection of a minority’s survival by combatting violence against its members. We note the following developments in India since the 2013 report:

First, communal violence has increased. In 2013, for example, in Muzaffarnagar, Muslims were overwhelmingly targeted, resulting in over 60 deaths. Speeches by political leaders and Members of Parliament encouraged attacks on Muslims and exacerbated the violence.

Second, state governments are slow to intervene against the targeting of religious minorities accused of “improper” conversions from Hinduism.

Third, since 2015, in the wake of state laws banning the sale of beef, mobs have attacked people alleged to have beef in their possession.

Fourth, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions reported that extrajudicial encounter killings “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy” in India.

Fifth, the above acts often are committed with impunity, stemming in part from close alignment between the government and non-state actors.

Sixth, law enforcement agencies fabricate terrorism cases, where Muslims are often targets.

For these reasons, we agree with the Special Rapporteur that progress in minority rights protection is under threat, including by increasing hate speech, xenophobic rhetoric, and incitement to hatred against minorities. We add that such threats come, in part, from elected officials and Members of Parliament.

The Advocates for Human Rights and its partner organizations call on India to accept a visit by the Special Rapporteur. We also join the Special Rapporteur in calling on UN Member States and the Human Rights Council to recognize that States bear the primary duty to protect the security of religious minorities with positive and preventive actions, through active engagement with religious minorities.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India will take place on Thursday, May 4, from 14:30-18:00 in Geneva, Switzerland.  The UPR session will be webcast live at this link: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/30th-regular-session-of-the-human-rights-council/4473498400001.  )Later that day it will be posted in the archives of UN WebTV: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/) The Advocates will be livetweeting the recommendations made to India on Twitter @The_Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with partners the Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the Quill Foundation, submitted a UPR stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 that addresses India’s failure to comply with its international human rights obligations to protect members of minority groups. In particular, the report calls attention to serious problems with the treatment of Muslims in India. Significant human rights challenges include: extrajudicial executions committed by police and security personnel, as well as non-State actors; arbitrary and unlawful detentions; torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects in police custody; discriminatory laws and practices; harassment of human rights defenders; as well as the targeting of NGOs through prohibitive legislation. Additionally, this report highlights the Indian government’s failure to adequately investigate and effectively prosecute perpetrators of these human rights violations against members of minority groups. You can read the full report here.

Cruelty as Policy: Part One

Child or woman's hand in jail

Euphemisms can be well-intentioned. Perhaps the most famous of all New Yorker cartoons depicts a mother offering a plate of greens to her toddler. “It’s broccoli, dear,” she says. The toddler glares at the plate and says, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

Euphemisms can also mask evil intent and remarkable cruelty. Consider the term “self-deportation.”  Promoted to one degree or another by various proponents of curtailing immigration, this is typically described as the notion that the flow of immigrants into the United States, and the percentage of the U.S. population represented by undocumented immigrants, can be reduced by taking away economic and other incentives for them to enter or remain in this country, so that they never come or they decide to leave after arrival. A quick scan of such a description might suggest that self-deportation is a relatively moderate political goal that relies on voluntary acts rather than draconian changes to existing law.

Think about that. The decision to flee one’s home country permanently and come to a strange land is not made lightly. Many refugees seek to escape starvation, persecution, torture or certain death, which could be due to their ethnicity, gender or gender orientation, political beliefs or religion, or it could be simply because conditions in their country of origin make it impossible to stay. Such people often have a legal right to asylum.

What the concept of encouraging “self-deportation” embraces is intentionally making conditions in the United States worse for undocumented immigrants than the conditions in the country from which they fled. Not the American Dream, but the American Nightmare. On purpose.

Consider one of the most egregious ideas, that undocumented parents be separated from their children at the border, with the parents placed in a detention center for adults and their children in a children’s detention center.  This proposal, which had the stated goal of deterring families from making the journey in the first place by threatening to have their children pulled from their presence and separately incarcerated, was seriously advanced by the Department of Homeland Security until public outcry forced it to be walked back. The Advocates for Human Rights was one of 184 organizations that have signed onto a letter to Secretary John Kelly of the Department of Homeland Security, registering outraged protests over this proposal. Among other objections, the letter points out that family unity is a fundamental human right under international law, and that the American Academy of Pediatrics has called the proposal “harsh and counterproductive” and pointed to the inevitable emotional and physical trauma to children from family separation

The proposal to separate families by no means exhausted the ingenuity of the “self-deportation” advocates. An anti-immigrant organization that calls itself the Immigration Law Reform Institute has promulgated a menu of 24 methods by which state and local legislatures can make life miserable for immigrants while supposedly minimizing the danger of being found in contravention of federal immigration authority. The related Federation for American Law Reform (cutely called “FAIR”) has published a similar list of anti-immigrant actions to be taken by the federal government, entitled “Immigration Priorities for the 2017 Presidential Transition.”

To refer once again to the New Yorker, the issue of April 3, 2017 contains an article by Rachel Aviv entitled “The Apathetic.” It tells of the heartbreaking suffering of refugees, especially children, resulting both from the trauma which they flee and from the prospect of deportation. In Sweden hundreds of children aged eight to fifteen, all refugees and most from Russia or the former Yugoslavia, have fallen prey to what Swedish psychologists are calling resignation syndrome. In response to the emotional trauma resulting from the prospect of deportation and return to their countries of origin, these children simply fade away. They stop speaking, lose muscle tone, stop eating, and become mute, incontinent and unresponsive to stimuli, including pain. The article compares this syndrome, the particular symptoms of which are likely culture-related, to other severe psychological reactions to the emotional trauma suffered by refugees, such as when one hundred and fifty Cambodian women who had seen family members tortured by the Khmer Rouge lost the ability to see, or when Laotian refugees would cry out in their sleep and die, apparently frightened to death by their dreams.

Think about these refugees and what sort of trauma could cause the body to shut down in this fashion. Then think about comfortable, intelligent Americans who advocate that our country should intentionally create an environment for those refugees that is less nurturing and less attractive than they already face, and do so in order to promote “self-deportation.” Does putting America First require us to make ourselves ashamed of our country?

I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.

By James O’Neal, volunteer attorney and Vice Chair of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Board of Directors. 

Our Economy Needs More Immigrants – Not Less

Immigration issues and concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage concept.
Image credit: Dollar Photo Club via Revitalization News

Since 1994, The Advocates for Human Rights has been working to dispel myths about immigration by bringing the facts into the public debate. Guest blogger and board member Steve Carlson, former Deputy Commissioner of Commerce for the State of Minnesota, helps put questions about the impact of immigrant workers on Minnesota’s economy in context.

There is a myth that immigration is hurting our economy. Some say that the 1 million immigrants that have come to the United States each year for more than 25 years are an economic problem. I would suggest instead that immigrants are essential. Without them, our economy would barely grow. It would stagnate.

Without immigrants and their children, the U.S. population would only be growing slightly more than 1 million people per year. With them, growth is more like 2.3 million people per year. Without more workers, our national income (GDP) is unlikely to grow more than a trickle.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected in January that GDP growth for the next decade will likely be only 2 percent per year, much below rates from 1946 – 2006. And the CBO assumes that 1 million immigrants will continue to arrive each year. Without them, GDP growth would fall by about a quarter, to 1.5 percent per year. This is substantially less than President Trump’s promise of 3-4 percent. At 1.5 percent growth, Americans would feel economic hardship. Hope for the future would wither.

Here are a few more facts (not myths) to consider:

  • The foreign born are more likely to be working than native-born Americans. They are 17 percent of the U.S. workforce, but only 13 percent of our population.
  • Unauthorized immigrants are even more likely to be working than all other U.S. workers. They constitute about 5 percent of the U.S. workforce (8 million).
  • The U.S. population is aging. People will be retiring from the workforce faster than young people enter it. Forecasters are projecting worker shortages.
  • Medicare and Social Security are running out of money, as benefits paid out each year exceed contributions. A growing workforce would strengthen both programs.
  • Unemployment is currently about 4.5 percent. This is close to “full employment” according to the Federal Reserve. Some sectors are already facing worker shortages. Unemployment for college graduates is only about 2.4 percent.
  • Immigrants are more likely than U.S. citizens to start new businesses.

These are simply a few of the facts which suggest that we need to encourage more immigration for economic reasons. There are of course a few others which might encourage less immigration. One such argument has been concern about reduced income for U.S. workers because of immigration. This is a complex question about which much has been written on both sides.

The question has two parts: 1) do immigrants take jobs away from U.S. workers? 2) would wages rise if there were fewer immigrants?

For the first question, it is difficult to find definitive data that proves immigrants are taking jobs U.S. workers want or could perform. Some of the work immigrants undertake in agriculture, restaurants and health care, for example, are jobs that have often been taken by immigrants for a variety of reasons, including relatively low wages. Other positions require engineering and other technical skills that are in short supply among American workers. These are far from complete answers, but the relatively low current rates of unemployment imply that immigrants are not taking jobs away.

For the second question, it is certainly true that if there were fewer workers available to do certain jobs (up to a point), then wages for those jobs should rise (also, up to a point). This breaks down to a sector by sector and job by job analysis. If, for example, a farmer needed more workers to pick strawberries, he might raise wages to get sufficient workers. But if he was obliged to pay workers more than what he might earn from selling strawberries, then he would be better off letting the crop rot in his fields. In that example, the question is whether there are enough non-immigrant workers willing to pick strawberries at a wage the farmer would pay. The same question would apply to a meat-packing plant or any other enterprise.

A different example, however, might involve computer engineers. If a company is employing U.S. engineers at $100,000 per year but can attract qualified immigrants to work at $80,000, it might reduce the pay of its U.S. workers to $80,000. In this example, the immigrants are adversely affecting the wages of U.S. workers.

Again, it is a complex question that cannot be resolved in the same way in all cases — or in this relatively short blog. But what can be said is that if immigration is managed a) so as to fill jobs that cannot otherwise be filled or b) to pay immigrants no less than the existing wage paid to U.S. workers, then the adverse effects could be mitigated. It would be a mistake to miss out on all the productive benefits immigrants could provide because of a politically-charged argument that might be largely resolved through more careful management of the immigration process.

In fact, I believe there are significant worker shortages in specific sectors that could appropriately be filled by more immigrants without harming U.S. workers. Adding those immigrant workers would further boost our economy, beyond the 2 percent GDP growth projected by the CBO.

For those readers who want more information, I would encourage you to read a longer article I co-wrote for MinnPost Immigrants are essential for U.S. economic growth — and we need more of them. You might also be interested in the following article Does Immigration Create Jobs?

Steve Carlson is a member of the Board of Directors of The Advocates for Human Rights.