[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday emphasized the importance of upholding the rights of immigrants in any US immigration reform proposal. In a report, Tough, Fair, and Practical [materials; press release], the organization called on the Obama administration and Congress to ensure that the US meets its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the US ratified in 1992. In order to do so, the report outlines several recommendations, including the creation of a legalization program with wide-ranging eligibility and procedural safeguards that would guarantee confidentiality and offer an appeals process. HRW also called for the US government to take steps to reduce exploitation of illegal immigrants in the work place, where the report states that undocumented workers are subject to illegal conditions and feel unable to seek legal redress due to the fear of deportation. The rights organization also called for an end to mandatory deportations in favor of allowing judges more discretion in deportation proceedings to consider factors such as time in the US and familial ties, citing deportation laws that allow the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] to act as “police, prosecutor, and jury” with little input from presiding judges. Additionally, HRW criticized laws that require the deportation of lawful permanent residents for minor crimes and ICE practices that deprive those awaiting deportation proceedings of the assistance of counsel. In explaining the need for greater access to legal services, the report stated:
Human Rights Watch has investigated numerous instances in which the undocumented status of individuals has exacerbated the impact of human rights abuses, including serious violent crime. The fact that they are undocumented too often prevents them from obtaining the redress to which they are entitled under both US and international human rights law. And because undocumented persons are less likely to report abuses, perpetrators are more likely to commit crimes against them and to escape being brought to justice.
The report also described Arizona’s new immigration law [SB 1070 text; JURIST news archive] as an impediment to meeting the rights standards under ICCPR by preventing illegal immigrants from accessing the criminal justice system and discouraging cooperation with law enforcement officials.
Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama [official website] reiterated the need for comprehensive immigration reform [JURIST report] and called on members of Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass immigration legislation. Obama acknowledged the frustration that has led states, like Arizona, to enact their own immigration laws. Obama called these laws “ill conceived” and “divisive” and indicated that they are unenforceable. He stated that reform should include holding businesses responsible for hiring and exploiting undocumented workers, a path to citizenship for people living in the US illegally and a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. The US Department of Justice [official website] on Tuesday filed suit [JURIST report] in the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] seeking to permanently enjoin the state’s new immigration law before it takes effect July 29, claiming the law is preempted by federal law and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause [text] of the US Constitution. Last week, the American Bar Association (ABA) [official website] filed an amicus curiae brief [JURIST report] urging the federal district court in Arizona to block the enforcement of the state’s immigration law. The brief was filed in support of a class-action lawsuit [JURIST report] led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website]. In May, a group of UN human rights experts said that Arizona’s immigration law could violate international standards [JURIST report] that are binding on the US.