Political leaders and elected officials have avoided serious discussion of immigration reform for many years. With the “comprehensive immigration reform” primarily a vague promise used to attract immigrant and Latino voters, border communities have suffered the costs of irresponsible and brutal enforcement-only policies, resulting in death and violence along border. As the costs to our communities rose, advocates for just and sensible policies were told to wait until the moment for reform was right. Now that there finally appears to be the political will to address immigration, it is critical that the voices of these border communities be central in the debate. As a Tucson-based human rights advocacy organization that has worked for more than thirty years on issues of militarization and civil rights, Coalición de Derechos Humanos has often been the one of the few voices from the border warning of the fallout of increased border militarization and neoliberal trade, drug, and other foreign policies. We work to engage the public to discuss the question of “why don’t they come here legally?” with honesty and true historical perspective, and to bring this background and experience to the national debate.
Immigration is an issue that has served as a lightning rod to divide communities. It is not a “problem,” as it is commonly portrayed, but rather an issue across the world-the inflow and outflow of workers, tourists, capital, etc., especially with the global economic restructuring. Since 9/11, the successful marriage of the concepts of “immigration” and “national security” has created a disconnect for the majority of the U.S. public, failing to acknowledge the complexities of immigration issues, while providing a permanent scapegoat for all societal ills. When public opinion became increasingly negative toward immigration as a result, this was then used as a justification for “enforcement-only” policies, leading to the bloated budget and alarming size of the Department of Homeland Security.
As a community-based organization that exists within sixty miles of the border, we witness the consequences of these deadly policies and the resulting border enforcement industry that has served to criminalize and stigmatize all immigrants and poison the space for debate. We receive the calls for missing migrants, help families identify human remains recovered on the Arizona border, and document the abuses that occur daily in our community. We have been denied access to national spaces that would allow our stories to be told, and have consistently been betrayed by elected officials who view border security as the ante in the negotiation around immigration, endorsing enforcement-only strategies that have created a human rights crisis in our communities.
Border communities have a unique and special role in the national discussion about immigration and border policies. Non-border organizations who do not work in solidarity with border communities cannot speak for us; our communities must be allowed to speak for ourselves. We reject the notion that those organizations which receive the most funding, or who have the closest access to centers of power can speak for us or negotiate on our behalf. We have a long history of working with allied organizations who share our values and principles on local, national and international levels, building alliances and movement for immigration and border policies that are based on a human rights framework rather than a national security framework that has been the prevailing approach to border and immigration reform strategies.
There are real and meaningful solutions to the issues in our communities, but they will require a serious analysis of the misguided acts that have created the current crisis. We propose the following to be the framework from which inclusive immigration reform can take place:
Immigration Status: Grant all people without status Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR), regardless of immigration history. The increasingly pervasive pattern of criminalization has resulted in a culture of creating “good” versus “bad” immigrants, further eroding the space for meaningful discourse. Permit those individuals presently under other non-tourist visa categories (such as H-1, H-2, etc.) the opportunity to immediately convert their visas to LPR status. Deportations of all those eligible-to-apply must be immediately halted.
Family Reunification: Process all applications for family preference visas within six months of application, and work immediately to eliminate existing backlogs. One of the largest barriers to obtaining legal status is the backlogs that are, in some cases, more than twenty years in length. These unreasonable processing times are a hindrance to a reasonable immigration process, which should be both timely and inclusive. A process must be immediately implemented to reunite families who have been separated or deported by current immigration laws. All bars to family reunification must be immediately removed, including the three and ten year bars established by 1996 legislation. All immigration rights should be equally available to same-sex permanent partners.
Labor and Cultural Rights: Employer sanctions and E-Verify, which we have systematically opposed, must be immediately repealed. All workers should be granted a Social Security number regardless of immigration status, ensuring a universal process for everyone. In order to ensure equity and fairness in the workplace, worker protection laws should be enhanced and enforced for all workers. All workers should be free to organize and join unions, and they should be able to sue over violations. Job creation and training programs should be implemented for all unemployed workers, ensuring a healthy and robust workforce. In addition, all cultures and languages must be honored and protected in the workplace.
Guest Workers and Future Flows: As guest worker programs have served to create severe inequities in the workplace, enable abuse by unscrupulous employers, and are counter to the ideals we strive to promote in this country, all guest worker programs should be ended immediately, and all current participants granted LPR status. The United States must immediately adopt the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1990. We believe that we will not have mass migration, if the US engages in fair trade and equitable foreign policies. Until then, applicants at the border should be processed for a lawful permit and granted access into the country, unless he/she is identified as a human rights violator, or a real threat to safety.
Trade, Drug and other Foreign Policies: U. S. foreign policies many times impact migration. Numerous studies have demonstrated the devastating impact of trade policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on communities from sending countries. Hearings on the effects of free trade agreements must be held on a federal level, with evidence collected on the ways these agreements displace people and cause mass migration. Existing agreements must be renegotiated to promote real hemispheric prosperity and equity, following the following the guidelines of the 21st Century Trade and Market Access Act, introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown. These guidelines should be the benchmark for all new trade agreements. The United States military must be prohibited from intervention or aid to support trade agreements, structural adjustment policies or market economic reforms. Likewise, our international drug policies and military policies must be assessed in their impact on migration.
Criminalization, Due Process and Detention: The increased criminalization of migrants has served to unnecessarily and unfairly prosecute, convict, and incarcerate immigrants, divide immigrant, migrant and mixed-status families, and to divert valuable resources that would otherwise be available for community needs. Industries such as private prisons and military contractors have benefitted enormously from the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has occupied our public discourse. We must repeal all programs under ICE ACCESS, including 287(g), the Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities. Additionally, we must end all federal criminal prosecutions of migrants for immigration-related crimes, such as misdemeanor “illegal entry” and felony “re-entry,” and grant LPR status to all current and previous detainees who have been charged. Families with children must not be separated by detention or deportation.
Federal and state laws barring benefits and other licenses, including driver’s licenses, to undocumented immigrants must be repealed. The Border Patrol, ICE and other DHS officials must be prohibited from any enforcement activity or unnecessary presence in any and all sensitive locations, including schools, churches and hospitals.
State and local law enforcement must be prohibited from enforcing immigration law, and all checkpoints, immigration raids, and community sweeps must be immediately and permanently halted. All existing detention centers should be closed, and the building of future detention centers prohibited. State governments must be prohibited from criminally charging migrants for immigration-related crimes.
Border Militarization and Human Rights: Since the unprecedented reorganization in 2003, all immigration functions previously under the Department of Justice (DOJ) were transferred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This has resulted in unchecked power and resources to increasingly erode the basic human and civil rights of all. This bloated agency, particularly CBP and ICE, is inefficient, wasteful, unaccountable, and abuses its power. This consolidation of numerous agencies has not only resulted in multiple bureaucratic burdens, but has enabled a climate of xenophobia and negative sentiment toward the immigrants in our communities to pervade our daily existence. All border and interior immigration services and enforcement functions currently under DHS must be immediately transferred back to the Department of Justice. We must reduce the budget for border enforcement and detention and redirect the funds to social services, infrastructure, healthcare, education, family reunification, processing visa backlogs and enforcing civil and worker rights. In addition, the number of Border Patrol, ICE and DHS agents must be immediately reduced, with staff diverted and trained to assist with redirected focus on processing visa applications.
The continual problem of abuse within DHS agencies has plagued local communities for decades. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of transparency and lack of an independent entity with full investigatory powers to look into allegations of abuse at the hands of agents. We must create an independent monitoring and accountability mechanism that directly engages impacted communities to hold the DHS and its agents accountable for its immigration enforcement and detention policies and initiatives. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), ICE and Border Patrol agents must be specifically prohibited from assisting and cooperating with state and local law enforcement on immigration-related issues.
The militarization of the U.S.-México border has resulted in the documented deaths of at least 2,400 migrant men, women and children on the Arizona border alone. Across the border, more than 6,000 remains have been recovered. These policies of funneling migration into the deadliest and most desolate areas have created a human rights crisis, and should be denounced by the international community. They are a disgrace to the spirit with which border communities live and work together. We demand the dismantling of the wall and the “virtual” wall along the border. National Guard troops must be removed from the border, and the utilization of the military to enforce immigration and border policies prohibited. We must end the privatization of border control and security operations on the border, putting the real security of our communities before the profits of corporations.
The violation of human rights or policies that result in death or division must be immediately addressed. We must enforce existing criminal laws to prosecute private individuals, vigilante groups, law enforcement officers, and border enforcement agents for violations of the rights of migrants. By ending the deadly border enforcement strategies, we can instead protect the human rights and constitutional liberties of all immigrants and communities on the border.
Coalición de Derechos Humanos, as our name indicates, is a human rights organization. Human rights are inalienable and not subject to being negotiated in political horse-trading. We believe that in order to build a better country and world, we have to live it. We want to live in a world where people can move across borders without the risk of suffering or losing their lives, whether it is to join family, to find employment, or to be human. We want to live in a world where no human being is “illegal” and every person’s language and culture are valued and protected. We want to live in a world where families can live together in economic security and free of fear from violence and hate.
In order to bring about the better world we envision, we have prepared the above statement and offer it as the place where discussion of immigration and border issues should start. It is not the role of Coalición de Derechos Humanos to negotiate away the rights of people in our community. We hope that immigrant and human rights organizations join us in this commitment.