and DAVID BRUNSMA
Sociologists without Borders is an organization that promotes the realization of human rights for all people, because we believe in the fundamental dignity of all human beings. In this vein, we assert that insofar as the current practices of raids, detentions, and deportations violate the human rights of people in the United States and abroad, a moratorium on these practices is necessary. Further, we call on the Executive Branch to sign, and the United States Congress to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, promulgated by the United Nations in 1990.
Migration has always been a fact of human existence and is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Current immigration policies in the United States result in denying both citizens and non-citizens a plethora of human rights. These include the right to family unity, the right to have one’s basic needs met, the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to a fair trial, and the right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. These rights are violated through laws that mandate detention and deportation, strategies that include immigration raids and racial profiling, and the militarization of the border. The systematic denial of these rights amounts to a denial of human dignity for many migrants and their families.
Immigration Raids Must Be Stopped
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has drastically increased its personnel and has been able to increase its number of arrests at work sites nearly ten-fold in the past five years. These raids wreak havoc on families and communities in the U.S. In these immigration raids, hundreds of ICE agents descend on a workplace, and inspect the documents of all of the people present in order to determine who should be taken into custody. This process often takes several hours, and the normal operations of the workplace are stopped for the day. These raids have immediate effects on the entire community. Word gets out that the raid is taking place, and community members assemble outside of the worksite in order to find out if their loved ones are being taken into custody. A general sense of fear pervades the community, since many people in the community are either undocumented or have family members or friends who are. Some children have nightmares about their parents being taken away, while others witness the nightmare when ICE agents show up at their doorstep. After the raid in Postville, Iowa, children whose parents had not been apprehended could not shake the fear that their parents would be taken away.
The raids serve to remind employers that it is illegal to knowingly hire undocumented workers and to remind people without proper documentation that they are “illegal.” This strategy does not work to actually reduce the incidence of undocumented employment, nor to reduce the presence of undocumented people. It does, however, further marginalize and subordinate a labor force that is vital to the U.S. economy. It also creates emotional and financial distress, both for undocumented workers, and for their families, who may or may not be U.S. citizens. These negative consequences are real, while the stated goals of ICE are not being achieved. We can see the distress that is created, while ICE can only hope that their actions reduce the “job magnet.” And, thus far, the evidence points to the contrary. In sum, these are ineffective enforcement tactics that are wreaking havoc on our communities, denying these peoples’ fundamental human rights, undermining human dignity, and must be stopped.
Mistreatment of Immigrant Detainees Must Stop
The U.S. Constitution as well as several international treaties stipulate that no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel or unusual punishment. The condemnation of cruel and unusual punishment can be found in article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel or Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The punishment inflicted on Francisco Castañeda by ICE officials was in violation of all of these treaties. While in ICE custody, Francisco Castañeda was denied tests and treatment for his case of penile cancer, despite doctors’ insistence that he needed a biopsy. The refusal to treat Mr. Castañeda led to him needing a surgical castration, and eventually experiencing an untimely death. U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson argued that the officials’ alleged withholding of the necessary tests and treatments for Castañeda’s extreme pain was “beyond cruel and unusual” punishment, and that this was a textbook case of what cruelty looks like.
Denials of medical treatment to detainees abound, indicating that migrant detainees often face cruel and unusual punishment. Between January 2004 and November 2007, sixty-six migrants died in ICE custody or shortly after release. Reports of abuse in ICE detention facilities consistently arise, yet we continue to incarcerate more and more immigrants. The mass detention of migrants must be stopped, and we need to develop a more humane system of immigration law enforcement.
Deportations Must End Now
In 2007, ICE removed 276,912 people, and detained a daily average of 29,786 undocumented immigrants (ICE Annual Report 2007). Formal removals have been increasing every year since 2002, when there were 150,788 formal removals. Despite these efforts, the undocumented immigrant population continues to grow, from 8.5 million in 2000 to 10.5 million in 2005 to 11.5 million in 2006.
These deportations, approaching one thousand people a day, are tearing apart families and communities. Family and community rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 16 mentions the right to found a family, and posits that the family is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society.” Article 17 puts forth the notion that everyone has the right to “participate in the cultural life of the community.” Not only is the importance of these rights internationally recognized; their realization is also fundamental to creating a better society for all. In direct violation of these statutes, 1.6 million people in the United States have been separated from their spouses, parents, and children since 1996, as a result of draconian deportation laws (Human Rights Watch 2007). Many of these deportees have long-standing ties to the United States, yet the lack of judicial review in deportation proceedings denies judges the opportunity to weigh in factors such as family and community ties. This often has devastating consequences for families. For example, Gerardo Mosquera, a native of Colombia, was deported for a $10 marijuana sale in 1989, although he had been a legal resident for 29 years. He left behind his US citizen wife and children. His 17-year old son committed suicide after his father left, in part because of his depression over losing his father.
A Better Way
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families currently has only 37 signatories, most of whom are migrant-sending nations. This treaty stipulates that “it shall not be the general rule that while awaiting trial [migrants] shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial.” U.S. laws that mandate the detention of certain migrants while awaiting trial are in contravention of this statute. This treaty further stipulates that “Any migrant worker or member of his or her family who is detained in a State of transit or in a State of employment for violation of provisions relating to migration, shall be held, in so far as practicable, separately from convicted persons or persons detained pending trial.” The common practice of placing immigrant detainees in county jails is in contravention to this statute. Finally, Article 44 of this convention stipulates that “1. States Parties, recognizing that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State, shall take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of the unity of the families of migrant workers.” US laws, policies and practices violate this statute in a variety of ways, including mandatory deportations, long waiting lists for family reunification, and guest worker programs that fail to account for family and community ties. The United States government would do well to ratify this treaty and make it part of our legal tradition.
TANYA GOLASH-BOZA is an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas.
David Brunsma is an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri.
They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org