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*