Saturday, December 18, 2010

COE Commish on Statelessness

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, has an excellent record so far of bringing attention to Europe's bete noir's: the war on terror, Roma, migrants, and now, the problem of statelessness.

In a speech to the CoE during a conference on nationality, Hammarberg highlighted the problem of statelessness throughout Europe, but especially among the Roma.
A great number of stateless persons are Roma. The problem exists in many countries, but it is particularly acute in the Western Balkans, notably in the countries of ex-Yugoslavia. Several thousand persons, among them many Roma, became victims of the decision in Slovenia in 1992 to erase non-Slovene residents from the Register of Permanent Residents. Many had moved to Slovenia from other parts of Yugoslavia before the dissolution of the federation. It was only in 2010 that this unjust regulation was changed through amendments to the law.
In other states in the Balkans, there are Roma who are without citizenship or even basic identity papers. Those who have moved from the former Yugoslav Federation to other parts of Europe often lack personal documents and live in legal uncertainty. They are de facto stateless. Their newborn children are frequently not registered and risk losing their right to apply one day for citizenship as they cannot prove legal residence in the country
Two important things to note about this speech:
1) He mentions the Slovenian "erasure" problem, the subject of the Kuric case currently referred to the Grand Chamber. ( Kuric and others v. Slovenia App. no. 26828/06). Sounds like he endorses the ECtHR's finding of wrong-doing on the part of Slovenia. (Article 8. if you'll recall.)
2.) He brings up the problem of unregistered (or, "legally invisible") people, and their children who do not receive birth registration, and implicitly endorses them as de facto stateless. Interesting stance.

We'll definitely want to keep an eye on Hammarberg, and the CoE to see what steps they take, if any, to back up their stance on statelessness in Europe.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

LGBTQ Asylum II:Case Law- USA

The last post discussed the 1951 Convention and its "membership in a particular social group" clause, concluding that this is most likely the best fit for LGBQT asylum claims, and was perhaps even contemplated as such by Convention drafters. In this installment, we'll review some important case law where states used the clause to grant protection to applicants.

In Acosta, a 36 year old Salvadorian man requested leave to remain in the USA during a deportation hearing, applying for asylum. The Judge denied in the first instance, stating that he had failed to meet the burden of proof for his claim, and he appealed to the BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals.) His argument rested on the fact that he was a member of a group of Taxi drivers that was being harassed by anti-government guerillas, whom eventually directly threatened his life. The Court had to address: does this count as a "social group"?

The BIA held that members of particular social group usually share a “common, immutable characteristic” or sometimes a “shared past experience.” More to the point, the Court held that the common characteristic “must be one that the members of the groups either cannot change or should not be required to change because it is fundamental to their individual identities or consciences.” (emphasis mine)

Although not meant to address LGBQT concerns, this definition (the "immutable" principle) is useful because it accommodates much of the debate surrounding sexual orientation. Although it is increasingly believed that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic that cannot be altered by, for example, religious conversion or therapy, it is all the same problematic to sweep out individuals who may feel that their sexual behavior is a choice, but one that is an essential part of their identity. This definition helpfully leaves the debate out of the question by including characteristics that, regardless of their immutability, should not be forcibly eradicated.

Unfortunately, it also leaves the door open for Judges to opine that sexuality is something that both can and should be changed by the applicant. And in the US, this opinion is unfortunately not so uncommon.

Not Gay Enough for the USA
Another big problem with the US asylum scheme for LGBQR applicants is covered in Deborah Morgan’s article "Not Gay Enough for the Government: Racial and Sexual Stereotypes in Sexual Orientation Asylum Cases" (2006) . Morgan focuses on a United States asylum case that pointed out some of the flaws of the immigration system when dealing with an applicant that did not fit into preconceived sexual orientation notions.

 In the Mohammed case, the asylum seeker was a gay Iranian man seeking asylum in the United States after many years of sexual abuse, discovery by the Iranian government (who sometimes punishes homosexuality with death) and further abuse and disownment by his family.  He filed an asylum claim in the United States, and went through the standard interviews and procedures that accompany the asylum process there. However, “Mohammed” had a problem: he did not have sufficient evidence of his sexual orientation. He did not appear “feminine, ” was not openly “out” in the United States where he lived with his Iranian-American partner, and did not have evidence of any of his participation in activities that would have confirmed his identity, such as “participation in gay pride parades.”  (Yes, seriously.) The immigration judge concluded that, “Mohammed was able to hide his sexual orientation well enough to pass as a heterosexual, therefore upon returning to the Iran he could do the same and not have any further problems.”  Unfortunately, this case is just one of many where asylum was denied because of person’s perceived ability to pass or non-demonstration of gay stereotypes.

Not only is this standard absurdly unfair, it also goes far beyond what is required by the 1951 Convention. The Convention requires a nexus between an individual’s membership in a particular social group and his reasonable fear of persecution. Why should it be necessary, then, to match the certain characteristics that this social group might have in the receiving country? An analogous situation would be the Court requiring a person fleeing persecution based on their religious identity to demonstrate that they live out their religion in the receiving country in the same way as other members of that religion do in that country. This additional hardship is likely to cause problems for people coming from non-Western countries, where the LGBT lifestyle is lived very differently.

In sum, the US has some excellent and broadly useful case law on social group membership that can be very beneficial for LGBQT asylum claimants. On the other hand, the perceptions and stereotypes of individual Judges reflect the same ones of the rest of the society, and can unfortunately present a significant obstacle for individuals from non-Western countries.

For more on Acosta, see: Susan B. Goldberg. Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death: Political Asylum and the Global Persecution of Lesbians and Gay Men. 26 Cornell Int’L L. J. 605, 613-615. (1993).
For more on LGBQT Asylum claims in the USA, see: The Difficulties of US Asylum Claims based on Sexual Orientation, Swetha Sridharan, via MPI.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Does the Refugee Convention Provide rights for non-Refugees?

The most elementary right owed to refugees is that they not be returned, or “re-fouled” to their home state where they are endangered. The classic expression of the principle is found in the 1951 Convention: “No contracting state shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontier of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a certain social group or political opinion.”[1] The principle of non-refoulement is becoming, if it is not already, considered a “peremptory norm” of international law that binds all states. [2]     

In earlier treaties and in the original drafts of the 1951 Convention, the duty of non-refoulement applied only to individuals lawfully present in the state, “refugees who have been authorized to reside in [state party] regularly.”[3] But a shift occurred during the drafting, probably related to the fact that so many refugees were already present in the member states, that a restriction requiring legal entry would have the effect of delegitimizing the majority of valid refugees already present. It seems that parties had already acknowledged this fact, since the discussion of clandestine entry in the travaux is limited to stating that that it is acceptable.[4] Simply put, under the under the principle of non-refoulement any removal at all that puts the refugee in danger is prohibited, whether classified as deportation, forced repatriation, or any other name.[5] This applies to individuals regardless of whether they have been recognized as refugees by the state apparatus.[6] In other words, the principle of non-refoulement attaches at the same moment that you become a refugee under the 1951 Convention, and neither the status determination nor the attaching obligation is dependant on state classifications. This fact is important for undocumented migrants for two reasons

First, it legitimizes illegal entry in certain cases. As a matter of fact, the duty of non-refoulement only applies to individuals already present in the receiving state. As Hathaway explains, “if the duty of non-refoulement under Art. 33 of the Refugee Convention can be claimed only by persons who are, in fact, refugees, then it is not a right that inheres in persons who have yet to leave their country… because Art. 1 of the Convention defines a refugee as a person who resides‘outside the country of his nationality.’”[7] Opening the door to illegal entry is an important feature in and of itself, as it demonstrates that there are occasions in international law when the territorial jurisdiction of a state cedes precedence to the needs to an individual.
The second importance of non-refoulement as it relates to clandestine entry is that it creates a presumption that individuals entering a country illegally could potentially have a claim to asylum. This presumption in turn creates a need for a minimum standard of administrative procedures prior to expulsion that could be beneficiary for a person regardless of his or her status.

Status Determinations
If an individual meets the definition of refugee under the 1951 Convention then he or she is a refugee, regardless of whether or not his or her host government or any other body finds otherwise. The 1967 Protocol does not list formal status recognition as a requirement[8] and the Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (“the Handbook”) explicitly states that a person becomes a refugee at the instant he or she fulfills the criteria. “Recognition of his refugee status does not therefore make him a refugee but declares him to be one. He does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because he is a refugee.”[9] This being the case, states may not expel individuals without some basic form of procedural due process to determine the validity of their asylum claim, lest they violate the principle of non-refoulement.

UNHCR recognizes that a variety of procedural systems could adequately determine refugee status, and therefore does not suggest one method for doing so, but does lay out a set ofrecommendations for minimum standards when dealing with refugee status determinations that would comply with the Convention.[10] At the least, individuals should have an opportunity to speak to an official familiar with the State’s international obligations, have access to an interpreter, and the ability to remain in the country pending adjudication of his application, as well as the opportunity to appeal at a higher court.[11]

While it would seem that a majority of 1951 convention states do comply with UNHCR’s recommendation in some form, the effect of these basic due process provisions is beneficial to undocumented migrants regardless of whether or not they are enacted. First, they provide an opportunity to engage with the receiving state’s legal system that may lead to residence status, even in the absence of a refugee determination under the 1951 Convention. Second, in States that do not comply, the lack of these standards is a foothold for NGO’s and human rights treaties to attack the treatment of migrants in general.

*Excerpted from a previous memo on the subject of non-refoulement and rights for undocumented peoples.


[1] 1951 Convention at art. 33
[2] Daniel Bethlehem and Sir Elihu Lauterpacht "The Scope and Content of the Principle of non-refoulement: Opinion", in Refugee Protection in International Law 107 (Erika Feller, Volker Turk, Frances Nicholson eds., 2001)
[3] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 159 LNTS 3663, Oct. 28, 1933 at Art. 3.
[4] Collected Travaux at A/CONF.2/SR. 5, 16 
[5] Bethlehem and Lauterpacht supra note 126 at 112.
[6] Id at 116
[7] James C. Hathaway. The Rights of Refugees under International Law. 307 (2005)
[8] 1967 Protocol
[9] UNHCR, Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees ¶ 28, UN Doc.  HCR/IP/4/ENG/REV.1.
[10] Id at 191
[11] Id at 192 (i)-(vii)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

LGBQT Asylum Part 1- a good fit under "particular social group?"

As states like Uganda pass restrictive measures against gays and lesbians, and countries all over the world continue to harass people that dare to be openly transgendered or gay, it is worth asking whether the 1951 Refugee Convention accommodates LGBQT asylum claims. My opinion? It should, easily, but the practices of receiving states vary, and often reflect their ambivalence with their own LGBQT populations.

"Particular Social Group"
The most vague group protected under 1951 Convention’s refugee definition is “member of a particular social group.” In recent years it has been invoked as a basis of asylum by a range of people both successfully and unsuccessfully, including but not limited to, victims of Female Genital Mutilation (See: Mohammed v. Gonzales, 400 F.3d 785 (9th Cir. 2005)), ex-gang members (see: INS v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478 (1992)), the disabled , and a range of LGBT individuals. But what exactly does this phrase mean?

The Refugee Convention Handbook states, “a ‘particular social group’ normally comprises persons of similar background, habits or social status. A claim to fear of persecution under this heading may frequently overlap with a claim to fear of persecution on other grounds, i.e. race, religion or nationality (77)." As this definition indicates, the “social group” category is rather broad. The travaux preparatoires is scarcely more helpful. “In the first place, experience had shown that certain refugees had been persecuted because they belonged to particular social groups.  The draft Convention made no provision for such cases, and one designed to cover them should accordingly be included (14)” With so little elaboration, it is difficult to determine what exactly was contemplated at the time of the group’s inclusion within the 1951 Convention.

However, it's at least possible, if not probable, that persecution for reason of sexual orientation could have been in the mind of the authors of the convention. The other categories tend to roughly correspond to the groups of people that were persecuted under German and Italian fascism, and which had caused large numbers of refugees during the post-World War II period. It could scarcely have escaped the attention of the drafters that alongside Jews, Gypsies, Anarchists and anti-fascist Resistance members, gays and lesbians were also targeted heavily by the Nazis.

Additionally, UNHCR has clarified its position on several occasions, most notably in a 2004 Advisory Opinion to the Tokyo Bar Association. In the Opinion, UNHCR explains that sexual orientation can be a cognizable “social group” under the 1951 Convention. “…In UNHCR’s view, homosexuals can be within the ambit of a social group category, either as a group sharing a common characteristic or because they are perceived as a cognizable group in the society (8)". In addition, the Opinion notes that while not all LGBT individuals are automatically entitled to refugee protection, that persecution can be proved in a variety of ways, including by reference to laws criminalizing homosexuality(4).  

So, it would seem that "membership in a particular social group" is in fact a good fit for many LBQT asylum claims. Stay tuned for part two, when I'll review some relevant case law on the subject.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

UK to opt-out of EU Asylum Directive?

According to an article in the Guardian, the United Kingdom is considering opting out of the 2003 asylum procedure directive ("minimum standards directive") . By doing so, they could avoid having to give individual interviews to asylum seekers, and keep their "fast track" asylum procedure in place.
"Ministers fear the EU directive, which forms a key part of developing a common asylum policy, will also block deportations of "manifestly unfounded" failed asylum seekers before they can appeal. About 150 failed asylum seekers a year are told that lodging an appeal against their claim being turned down will not halt their deportation and they can only appeal once they have left Britain."
Not only that, but it would be expensive to implement. (The Home Office lists 37 million pounds, though I'd love to know how they came up with that.)

 We'll have to keep an eye out for further developments on this story... is the UK about to become an even unfriendlier destination for asylum seekers?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Realizing the Dream Act

The Dream Act is one of those legislative imperatives, like the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that has been lingering around the halls of the U.S. Congress for years, receiving waxing and waning attention and support as political agendas shift. When Comprehensive Immigration Reform seemed to be gaining headway back in 2006, the DREAM Act was the carrot offered against the many sticks for undocumented immigrants contained in the bill. So what's it all about?

The DREAM Act portal website accurately describes the bill thusly:
Under the rigorous provisions of the DREAM Act, undocumented young people could be eligible for a conditional path to citizenship in exchange for completion of a college degree or two years of military service. Undocumented young people must also demonstrate good moral character to be eligible for and stay in conditional residency.

The basic argument for the DREAM Act is as follows.

1.) Children in the United States are guaranteed access to a K-12 public education, without any regard whatsoever to their immigration status. This has been so since 1983, when the landmark case Plyler v. Doe was handed down by the Supreme Court. The case struck down a Texas statute that would have denied access to public school education by children not "legally admitted" into the US. The logic of the Court (very simplified) was that the 5th and 14th amendment protects all people in the US (not just citizens) against discrimination/ deprival of rights, and therefore in order for the law to be constitutional, it must be rationally related to a substantial state interest. On the contrary, denying education to children was more likely to hurt state interests by relegating the children to a permanent underclass. Not to mention it was especially cruel to punish the children for the actions of the parents (ie, illegally crossing into the country.) Since 1983 this principle has been instituted in school districts across the country and has never been sucessfully challenged.

2.) Having received a high school education, many of these students would naturally have been prepared for the next step in education: a college degree. This makes sense, doesn't it? High school is increasingly geared towards preparation for a college degree, and having been educated in English and participated in the same kind of exams, extracurricular activities, and college prep programs, why wouldn't some or all of these students want to take the next step as many of their classmates?

3.) However, college, for most undocumented students, is an unattainable goal. Not only do most colleges require proof of citizenship, but they have proven particularly loathe to try to delve into the variety of non-illegal immigration statuses (such as temporary protective status or NACARA in cash, all at once. (See, for example: EAE v. Merten.) In sum, undocumented students face massive barriers to a college education, and have to find alternatives for after their high school education.

4.) The same arguments used in Plyler are applicable to college education. Why should students that were brought into the country at a young age be denied the opportunity to improve their career opportunities years later? In a sense, this situation forces otherwise bright and talented students to limit themselves to the kinds of jobs that do not require a college education- meaning that the U.S. deprives its economy of potential doctors, lawyers, scientists, ect, that are so needed. Not to mention that it is just patently unfair to continue to punish these children for the actions of their parents. These are often students that speak English and have otherwise completely assimilated into society, but are cut off from reaching their dreams because of... well, why, actually? I guess that's the point of the DREAM Act.

Apparently, this week will see an intensive lobbying effort on behalf of the DREAM Act by undocumented students in Congress. Whether it will have more success this time around is anyone's guess, but in my opinion it is only a matter of time before we stop depriving our society of the talents of first generation immigrants in this unjust way.

Some interesting articles:

Great old editorial from the NY Times: Pass the Dream Act
Will Perez: A New Civil Rights Movement

And here's a blog, ostensibly by an undocumented youth, about his efforts to get the DREAM Act passed. The Dream Blog

(Photo via Florida Immigrant Coalition Blog)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Les Sans Papiers

[Photo by Johann Karlsson via Flickr.]

Just a quick post to link to an old article about Les San Papiers of Paris.

In Paris Without Papers, and Seeking Visibility

And here is a gallery of images of les Sans Papiers from the Guardian.

Iovane on the Universality vs. Relativism of Human Rights

*I will be presenting occasional notes/ reviews of important old and new scholarly articles in migration studies/ law/ political science. When possible I will link to the article*

Article: Massimo Iovane; "The Universality of Human Rights and the International Protection of Cultural Diversity: Some Theoretical and Practical Considerations" (2007)
International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 14.

In this article Iovane explores an apparently unresolvable conflict between two conceptions about morality as it relates to international law.

On the one hand, in order for human rights law to be binding on all sovereign states, it must express to some degree universal conceptions of morality. For example, a prohibition against genocide is considered universally binding because it is agreed upon apart from political or cultural considerations. However, much of human rights law relates to less overarching norms. In fact, they often come from a individualist, western perspective that is hardly uncontroversial. As Iovane states, this conception starts from the position that human dignity is paramount, and moves from there to the belief that individual freedom is the most crucial way to protect human dignity. "Human dignity is thus equated with individual autonomy, and the capacity of independent action is accordingly the only hub and ultimate achievement of human rights."(@232) And this vision is chiefly achieved by states refraining from action that tends to limit individual autonomy. (E.g., not censoring politically sensitive newspapers, not preventing groups from protesting against government policies.)

On the other hand, this vision is not shared by all states. The rise of cultural relativism theory in the 1960's led to the recognition of alternative visions of human rights based on, eg; preservation of tradition, protection of the community interests above those of the individual, and cultural autonomy. This conception may also require a policy of non-intervention: "towards persons with whom we morally disagree, relativist conceptions usually predicate a position of tolerance and non-interference." (@237) But it may also require positive action on behalf of the state such as intervening to protect groups at risk of assimilation.

The problem then arises at how to conciliate these two values. How, for example, do we explain why Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a violation of human rights, when it is also a cultural tradition? Further, how do we reconcile a condemnation of a non-western tradition such as FGM but still for allow for widely practiced circumcision of males in the western world? Doesn't this reveal a heavy bias towards western/liberal/ capitalist models?

And continuing with the argument, doesn't the allowance of local, traditional forms of justice and human rights also negate universality? The obvious 'slippery slope' of cultural relativism is a denial of any forms of universal ethical norms, and for individual states and cultures to be able to rationalize any form of abhorrent behavior in the name of cultural relativism. Eek! (Let us, however, also recall here that Western states tend to make exceptions to their support of individual rights when it comes to the overall security of the group, see, for example, the Patriot Act.)

In sum, there are good and bad arguments for both positions, but overall it seems necessary to some degree to find a balance between equality of treatment of individuals and the occasional interference or even discrimination between people to protect minority and group rights.

So, having set up this straw man dichotomy, Iovane strikes it down during the later sections of his article by suggesting that judicial actors, such as the European Court of Human Rights, are best situated to negotiate between these two competing and even mutually exclusive values. As he sees it, several cases addressing linguistic, religious and cultural rights "illustrate the difference between protecting a human right seen from the individual point of view and safeguarding the same right seen as a binding element with a given community"(@256). By being able to make case-by-case decisions, weighing all relevant facts and detaching as much as possible from political considerations, Courts are in a unique position to protect both values while not making overly broad rules that hurt both interests.

I tend to agree with Iovane that Courts are in a better position to make these tough decisions than governments or conventions. However, Courts are also inherently political mechanisms that push the values of the societies they represent, values which may support or crush cultural and political difference. Ultimately, I don't think the very difficult question of how to weigh the rights of the individual with the rights of community is adequately resolved by any Court, but then, what is the alternative institution?

At any rate, this article excellently sums up an interesting dillemma and also has a super bibliography. Can't find a free copy right now, but will post it if I can find one!

Monday, February 22, 2010

March on Washington upcoming?

Apparently there are plans underway for a March on Washington, DC in support of immigrant rights on March 21st, 2010. The march would be part of a conference planned on behalf of a coalition of Ecumenical Christian religious groups that goes by the title "Ecumenical Advocacy Days." From the website:
Jesus had no place to lay his head. Neither do tens of millions of migrants, refugees and displaced persons. Be a part of an action weekend addressing this global injustice. Join hundreds of faith-based advocates in taking action on U.S. legislation that will welcome immigrants, protect refugees and prevent displacement for millions.

Personally, I think its fantastic if religious groups want to take the lead this time around. Its no fluke that the civil rights movement was lead by religious leaders, and there's no reason why God should only be invoked these days to suppress gay rights, misinform our children about sex, and back every single insane proposal by the far right. (Yes, Christian Coalition, I'm looking at you.)

It seems that other groups are getting involved as well, and hopefully this could be a big draw for the many Americans that are getting tired of Obama's inaction on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) so far this year. So what if we were traumatized by the fiasco in '96? Time to shake it off and put the pressure back on the White House and Congress to fix the mess they put us in by years of piecemeal legislation and bureaucratic shuffling.

Onward Christian (and other) soldiers!

Petition Against Deportation of Bita Ghaedy

[Photo via Indymedia]

UK Indymedia is featuring the harrowing story of Bita Ghaedy, an Iranian woman seeking asylum in the UK. Apparently she has been on a 2 week hunger strike to resist deportation. You can read her story here and sign a petition for her non-refoulement here.

However, I haven't seen any updates on her situation, so if anyone has let me know!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aleinikoff and Kluysmeyer on Migration-friendly Citizenship Policies

*I will be presenting occasional notes/ reviews of important old and new scholarly articles in migration studies/ law/ political science. When possible I will link to the article*
(Also, this review was submitted for a class at my university)

Article: T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer. Executive Summary: Citizenship Policies for an Age of Migration Except available online at CEPS.

In the Executive Summary for their book Citizenship Policies for An Age of Migration, Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer layout their back-door plan for creating more immigrant friendly societies: adapt humane and pro-immigrant citizenship legislation. By altering citizenship policies, the “tension and anxiety” (3) caused by migration influxes can be partially eased, while avoiding the political landmines of migration politics. While this is likely partially true, this brief overview fails to take into account two factors: first, that processes of determining citizenship are likely to be as political or more so then the other types of national legislation that deals with migrants. Second, the possession of legal citizenship does not necessarily lead to integration, social rights, or a feeling of belonging among migrants, or for that matter, other groups in society.

Many of the policy recommendations outlined by Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer are creative and humane; an accomplishment considering how often progressives are criticized for offering problems but no solution. For instance, the concept of changing the discourse of comparative citizenship by identifying countries policies not by their key requirement but by the practical number of generations required to acquire citizenship is a step towards recognizing the injustice of the traditional systems. It also allows for recommendations common to both to be identified more clearly (such as the concept of 1st generation citizenship for children raised in the host state from an early age.) Even those requirements which are not so creative, such as eradicating barriers to holding dual citizenship, are still certainly proposals that deserve implementation.
However, as the dual citizenship example demonstrates, these are highly controversial and inherently political proposals and do not necessarily present an easy path to integration. For example, the suggestion that parties should “refrain from campaigns that stigmatize ethnic minorities” (9) is something that most people would agree with, and yet sounds hopelessly naieve. Stigmatizing ethnic minorities and immigrants is a long-cherished political tradition that is so widespread that a suggestion to “refrain” from it can hardly be considered a policy proposal. Similarly, the suggestion that citizenship not be regarded as the gateway to welfare and other social benefits is likely to be met by massive skepticism by policy makers.

A nation’s citizenship policies reflect a lot about its conception about itself, and so those policies are bound to be controversial, regardless of how reasonable reforms may be. Even simple shifts can call into question issues of national identity. For instance, the removal of vague requirements like “good moral character” that Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer recommend could awaken a sleeping monster. One can imagine the headlines: “Good Moral Character no longer required to become citizen!” The problem is that reason and fairness has so much less to do with citizenship policies than does that intangible “spiritual principle” described by Renan. If citizens cannot put their finger on what exactly makes them belong, its hard to be rational about what qualities in others should distinguish them enough to join.

Of course, even within a relatively heterogeneous society there are bound to be outsiders of some sort creating tension and anxiety by their presence. These people are not necessarily non-citizens, and citizenship, even with all of the enlightened proposals in the world, does not always eradicate these problems. Ultimately citizenship, even bolstered by the wisest policies unimpeded by political barriers, is only one aspect of the tension and frissures created by diverse modern societies.

These points are more than likely considered by the authors within the full text of their book. And in general, the proposals presented by Aleinikoff and Klusmeyer are refreshingly well-balanced and no doubt effective in achieving the stated goal of promoting inclusion, and a liberal-minded person could almost not help but agree with them. However, the reformation of citizenship policy is not a simple thing. On the contrary, it involves grappling with some of the most fundamental and political questions in any society. It just seems to me that any society that was able to unproblematically implement the reforms suggested in the Executive Summary may not need them anyways.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

News Roundup: Haiti

Some of the latest post-earthquake information, and some resources for those interested in finding out more.

*US sends mixed messages on Refugees
The United States is home to largest number of Haitians outside of Haiti, many of whom are legal permanent residents. Naturally, persons fleeing the disaster are likely to seek refuge in the US for reasons of family connections, strong networks for jobs and resources, as well as the historical and cultural ties between the two nations which stretch back centuries.

While the United States has accepted and plans to accept a number of Haitian refugees in cities such as Chicago, and Christie, NJ, it appears that the emphasis of the Obama administration is still on preventing illegal immigration rather than providing relief for survivors.

Two examples: the US Coast guard has taken an active role in preventing sea-born refugees from entering the US.
US Repatriates 88 Haitian Reugees off the coast of Florida

Worse, there has been talk of housing repatriated refugees in the dreaded Guatanamo Bay prison camp in the event of a mass influx. Read about that horrible, horrible idea here.

However, USCIS has granted an 18 month Temporary Protected Status to Haitian Refugees, which would allow them to temporarily legally reside in the United States, so long as appropriate paperwork is filed. But as past TPS recipients from Nicaragua and El Salvador can attest, a temporary solution can lead to years of uncertainty for its recipients (and their children), as well as difficulties with labor, education, and social rights.

*Debt Relief; Reparations in Store?
With promises by G7 Finance Ministers to help Haiti rebuild with grants and debt relief, international attention is finally focusing on the Haiti's historical odious debt to France and the United States. Naomi Klein sums up the arguments on Haiti's behalf passionately and succinctly in this recent article from The Nation.
Haiti: A Creditor, Not a Debtor

Read about the promises from the G7 Ministers here. And for more information about Haitian debt and current campaigns, check out the Jubilee campaign.


-The Haiti Democracy Project
-The Haitian Studies Association
-The Daily Haitian Times

*All images from Don Lee, CBS News, do not use without permission*

Friday, January 29, 2010

News Roundup: Italy- Riots, Racism, and Deportation

[Photo: NY Times]

A tragic clash between African immigrants and Italian youths/ mafioso/ police has set off a debate about Italy's harsh stance on migrants, its reluctance to take on the mafia, and disgraceful racism that is exploited by this government's actions.

BBC was there on Jan. 8th: African Migrants Riot Over 'Racist' Attack in Italy
Several people have been injured in rioting that broke out in southern Italy after an attack on immigrant farm workers by local youths. The migrants, mainly Africans, clashed with police after taking to the streets of the Calabrian town of Rosarno.

More in depth coverage from the NY Times: Race Riots Grip Italian Town, and Mafia is Suspected
More than a thousand African workers were put aboard buses and trains in the southern Italian region of Calabria over the weekend and shipped out to immigrant detention centers, following some of the country’s worst riots in years.

The Economist weighs in: Southern Misery
In a few days, it will seem as if they were never there. On January 11th bulldozers in the southern Italian town of Rosarno began obliterating the wretched dwellings from which more than 1,000 African crop-pickers had fled or been evacuated by police over the weekend. Left behind were seven of their fellows, recovering in local hospitals from gunshot wounds and savage beatings inflicted by Italians. It was an ethnic clearance of Balkan swiftness, nastiness and comprehensiveness that shocked many Italians and prompted them to question their society’s attitudes to race and colour. Only a handful of black or Arab immigrants remained in Rosarno. And within 24 hours, one had his car torched.

Great Editorial from the NY Times:

There are native Italians who reject mafia rule as well, but they have the means and the freedom to leave places like Rosarno, becoming migrants themselves. The Africans can’t. They have to stand up to the clans. They know they have to act collectively, for it’s their only way of protecting themselves. Otherwise they end up getting killed, which happens sometimes even to the European immigrant workers.

It’s a mistake to view the Rosarno rioters as criminals. The Rosarno riots were not about attacking the law, but about gaining access to the law.

USCRI's World Refugee Survey 2009

[Photo: US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants]
Every year the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants publishes their World Refugee survey, a great resource for stats and facts on the refugee populations and their treatment in virtually every country in the world.

Check it out here: World Refugee Survey!

Some highlights from this years report:
* The Thai navy dragged disabled boats full of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar out to sea and abandoned them to the sun and sea.
* Xenophobic mob attacks in South Africa killed dozens of foreigners and drove tens of thousands from their homes.
* Hamas rocket attacks launched from Gaza provoked an Israeli invasion, including indiscriminate attacks, that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians
* Malaysian officials continued to sell deported refugees into slavery.
* Kenya continued its attempts to stem the flow of Somali refugees by forcing hundreds back across the border, beating many and demanding bribes from them.
* Egyptian border guards shot and killed more than 30 African migrants trying to cross into Israel.
* Turkey continued to deport hundreds of asylum seekers back to their countries of origin without any chance at protection, and in one incident drowned four people by forcing them to try to swim across a swift river into Iraq.
(From the USCRI site)