US: Fix Dysfunctional Immigration System

2006_USA_Immigration.jpgImmigrant laborers from Mexico and Honduras work to rebuild a home damaged by Hurricane Katrina on April 27, 2006, in New Orleans. © 2006 Mario Tama/Getty Images

New Legal Framework Needed for Reform

Washington, DC) – Congress and the Obama administration should include protections for immigrants’ human rights, both in their daily lives and in the courts, in any immigration reform proposals, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today. The report includes a series of recommendations for changes in immigration law to address such issues as the vulnerability of immigrants to exploitation in the workplace, including sexual abuse and unfair labor conditions. The 24-page report, “‘Tough, Fair, and Practical’: A Human Rights Framework for Immigration Reform in the United States,” proposes a framework for improving US immigration law that would give immigrant crime victims a chance to seek justice, protect workers, respect the private and family life of longtime residents, and provide fair treatment for immigrants who come before the courts.

“When immigrants and their children suffer because employers exploit them or the laws don’t protect them, all Americans are harmed,” said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “There is a consensus that something needs to be done about immigration, and this report offers practical, commonsense solutions.”

Among other major steps, the report recommends that Congress and the Obama administration:

  • Provide a path to legalization for undocumented migrants, which would offer tangible governmental protection to especially vulnerable individuals and secure their willingness to report crimes to law enforcement;
  • Ensure that immigrant workers, who are likely to fear being fired and deported should they report workplace violations, have a grace period to search for a new job after leaving their initial employment;
  • Untie immigration judges’ hands so that they may consider each legal resident’s connections to the United States (such as family relationships or military service) before deporting him or her.

The report also calls for reforms addressing inefficiencies in existing federal immigration law, such as the unnecessary and costly detention of thousands of immigrants who are legally in the country and are neither dangerous nor at risk of absconding. Such policies contravene international human rights standards that limit detention of immigrants to circumstances required by legitimate government interests.

The United States also has an obligation under international law to protect families in its immigration policies, Human Rights Watch said. But, the report says, current US law requires the deportation of certain legal permanent residents if they have served a prison sentence, even for a minor nonviolent crime, offering   judges no chance to keep families together.   It cites the case of an army veteran whose spouse and children are US citizens and who has a drug conviction stemming from an addiction developed during military service.

“While keeping families together and supporting veterans are important American values, each year thousands of legal permanent residents are summarily deported without ever having these factors considered,” Parker said. “Immigration judges too often find their hands tied.”

“Tough, Fair, and Practical” is the most recent report from two years of research by Human Rights Watch on flaws in the US immigration system.

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