Migrant Rights are Human Rights: Stop the Separation of Families. Legalization for All.

June 26, 2018

Reference: Rodrigo Bacus, Chairperson, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), nychrp@gmail.com

Migrant Rights are Human Rights: Stop the Separation of Families. Legalization for All.


In the last month, many have spoken out against Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on the border. The policy has resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents, while the parents are in criminal and deportation proceedings. Because of the system that the Trump administration is using to effectuate this separation, many of the children may not ever see their parents again, without assistance from the community. Journalists, politicians, and the United Nations have called these actions unlawful and a violation of human rights. Amidst all the criticism, Trump has further isolated the United States from the demands of the people, even withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The separation of families occurs because federal jails are legally mandated not to put adults and minors together. The crossing of a person into the U.S. border without approval from an immigration officer has been a misdemeanor under federal law since 1990, which allows people to be prosecuted. Instead of doing away with the prosecution of misdemeanors altogether, the Trump administration has instead decided it would let the system separate children by classifying them as unaccompanied minors once the parents are taken to federal jails. Jeff Sessions, who concocted this plan, knew this separation would be a consequence of the administration’s choice to prosecute massive numbers of people who enter at the border. He even alluded to this consequence publicly as a way to deter immigration into the United States.

In an effort to quell the outrage of the public, Trump defended the administration’s policy by arguing that he was simply enforcing laws established by a Democrat-party led government. This statement is a deflection and an incorrect assessment of U.S. immigration history for the last few decades. The truth is that U.S. immigration law has continued to become stricter and harsher under both Democrat-led and Republican-led governments, because it serves the interest of U.S. imperialism and its neoliberal policy.

As mentioned before, the law that classifies the entry without authorization of a person as a misdemeanor has existed for decades. Former presidents Bush senior, Clinton, Bush junior, and Obama have taken on anti-immigrant stances, finding ways to restrict entry into the country and increasing the level of deportations. Each of these presidents have engaged in the criminal prosecution of some people who enter the border pursuant to the federal law that has existed since 1990. In fact, deportations were at its height under President Obama, based on reported numbers. Regardless of whether the President, Congress, or Senate were led by the Democrats or the Republicans, the two parties have been united on the stance that immigration to the U.S. is a privilege, and that immigrants must work extra hard to prove that they are worthy to enter and belong.

However, the immigration story united on by both Republicans and Democrats is incorrect. It diminishes the histories of the people who were natives to U.S. land. It also washes the hands of U.S. imperialism by obscuring the relationship of immigration to the U.S. with the history of the country’s intrusion and interference in other sovereign states. Members of the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) study the phenomenon of forced migration and know that forced migration is what drives entry into the U.S. whether the government of the U.S. ultimately considers these entries lawful or not. Forced migration is caused by unequal trade agreements, neoliberal policies, and militarization perpetrated by and meant to serve the interests of the U.S.

The Philippines alone has been subject to the experimentation of U.S. imperialism and many Filipinos have been forced to migrate as a result. In Marawi City, for example, the U.S. supported the bombing and leveling of the city, which has forced its inhabitants to leave, still currently unable to return. Many of them have even left the Philippines, in an effort to find security and stability for themselves and their families. Because of unequal economic, political, and military agreements with the U.S., the Philippines remains a suppressed semi-colonial, semi-feudal system: most people are landless farmers made dependent to landlord families; jobs are scarce and labor abuses are rampant and normalized. Every day, an estimated 6,000 Filipino workers are forced to leave their communities and families behind because the Philippines’ repressed economy cannot sustain them. The U.S. profits off of the vulnerability of working Filipinos when they arrive in the U.S. by exploiting them for labor; many do not see their children for years or decades. Because of the insidious role of U.S. imperialism, family separation does not occur only at the U.S. border but also at the countries of origin themselves.

It is not difficult for members of NYCHRP to imagine that countries in Latin America, and other sovereign nations, have experienced similarly because of U.S. imperialism. Many indigenous people of Mexico experienced the forcible taking of their land from U.S. colonizers who were interested in creating large plantations to exploit slave labor and extracting the natural oil and gold wealth of the land over a century ago. The border crossing of a different kind later resulted in the separation of families when the U.S. decided, about a century later, that as an imperialist power it could control the movement of people who were native to the states of Texas, California, Arizona, etc.. In its 1940s bracero program, the U.S. restricted authorized entry into the U.S. from Mexico so that it could exploit the labor of migrants. Even the current waves of migration from Central America is a direct result of U.S. imperialism in the Cold War era Intentionally, the U.S. destabilized progressive governments and movements in Latin America and attacked labor unions and other forms of workers organizing in order to secure a stepping stone for itself into the world stage. Consequently, people are fleeing places of poverty and violence in Latin America constructed directly by U.S. imperialism. Forced migration, including into the U.S., is a direct result of U.S. imperialist and neoliberal policy across the globe.

Moreover, we recognize that the U.S. government can never truly claim control over a land that they stole to begin with. Members of NYCHRP know that the land we work on and live on here in New York City is Lenape land that was stolen by colonizers, the only true illegal immigrants. People native to what is now called U.S.A. lived here, existed here, and prospered. The people built nations that the U.S. government continues to try and dismantle with its settler colonization. We believe that the migrants struggle for liberation and human rights and dignity is bound together with the struggle of the indigenous peoples on the land now called America.

This past week, Trump signed an executive order that he claimed would “fix” the problem. This order claimed to stop the separation of families at the border. However, what Trump is paving the way for, is the detention of families indefinitely. This executive order did not factor in that minors are only permitted to be detained in a facility for a maximum of 20 days, which would then require their removal and would only serve to separate the family again. This order also did not address how to reunite the thousands of children who have been sent to detention facilities all over the states even as far as New York and New Jersey.

The actions of the Trump administration are an unlawful and arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty, a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37. The same article 37 further provides that the detention of children should be used as a last resort, and should be done in the shortest amount of time possible. Contrary to these provisions, the Trump administration has refused to give full explanation to their actions, separating children from their parents by treating them as unaccompanied minors once the parents are detained for criminal and deportation proceedings. The mechanical application of these laws is arbitrary and no administration before this one has engaged in mass criminal prosecutions of families crossing the border without inspection, including some who have declared they were asylum seekers at the border, and have forcibly separated their children as a result.

NYCHRP supports and participates in the growing resistance across the U.S. to abolish ICE including calls to shut down facilities particularly involved in the cruel and inhumane treatment of the people detained in them. We oppose the targeting of activists through immigration law, including the detention, torture, and deportation of Jerome Aba, a human rights advocate from Mindanao, Philippines, by Customs and Border Protection agents in California. We continue to oppose U.S. imperialism, including the corporate interests that drive it, and the role of imperialism in creating wars of aggression and poverty all over the world – the main causes of forced migration. NYCHRP believes that migration is a freedom that people have owned and exercised since the existence of human beings – we oppose its restriction for the interest and profit of only a few.

No to Child Imprisonment or Family Separation!

No to Forced Migration!

Stop criminalization of migrants and refugees!

Stop arrest, detention, and deportation of migrants!

Uphold and Implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families!