September 6, 2009

Migrant Rights are Human Rights

In rallies and protests across the United States calling for immigration reform and a stop to raids, detentions and deportations, protestors insist that immigrant rights are human rights. What does this mean?

A human rights perspective is one that presumes the fundamental dignity of all people, regardless of national origin. For human rights advocates, all human lives are valuable. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights doctrines serve as a moral compass to understand the impact of immigration policies on citizens and non-citizens in the United States.

A human rights perspective presumes universal equality and dignity, and also recognizes that people are members of families and communities (Blau and Moncada 2005: 29). A consideration of the human rights impact of immigration policies in the US requires recognizing that people have rights, not as citizens of a particular nation-state, but as human beings.

A human rights perspective compels us to see that migrants are not simply workers; they are husbands, fathers, brothers, wives, mothers, sisters, and community members. As human beings, migrants have the right to be with their families and to be members of the communities they live in. These 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” (UDHR 1948). Not only is the importance of these rights internationally recognized; their realization is fundamental to creating a better society for all.

Immigration policy debates frequently revolve around issues of national security and economic costs and benefits. This stance ignores the human element. Migrants in the US are not simply commodities or potential terrorists. They are people with family and community ties in the US. An attack on migrants is an attack on families and communities in the US.

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