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Standing Up For Migrants’ Rights In Georgia

Azadeh N. Shahshahani,
ACLU Foundation of Georgia
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December 18, 2009

I was joined this morning by other human rights advocates in delivering a human rights resolution to the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners on the occasion of International Migrants’ Day. The resolution emphasizes the human dignity of all persons, regardless of immigration status, and urges the cessation of local enforcement of immigration laws. We will seek endorsement of the resolution at an upcoming meeting of the Commissioners.

December 18th was declared International Migrants Day in year 2000 by members of the General Assembly of the United Nations in support of the rights of migrant workers and their families, an issue championed by the ACLU. The General Assembly passed resolution 55/93 to reflect the UN’s adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, resolution 45/158, on December 18, 1990. The Migrants Worker Convention guarantees migrant workers and their families’ fundamental rights including: freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, sex, religion or any other status, in all aspects of work; equality before the law regardless of a migrant’s legal status; and freedom from arbitrary expulsion of migrants from their country of employment.

The United States has not yet signed or ratified the Migrant Worker Convention. However, the government is not even respecting its obligations under the treaties the U.S. has already ratified, .

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and Law under the guidance of Senators Durbin and Coburn held the first oversight hearing on the domestic implementation of human rights treaty obligations. The hearing focused on how the U.S. government is abiding by its obligations specified in human rights treaties which it has ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Submissions by human rights organizations including the ACLU and the Rights Working Group served to remind the Subcommittee that the U.S. has yet to implement many of the Concluding Observations of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), including specific reforms under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to combat racial profiling in the U.S.

President Obama vowed on December 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “let us rededicate ourselves to the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all, and pledge always to live by the ideals we promote to the world.” It is high time for the Obama administration and states and counties to take concrete steps to abide by this pledge and by their obligations under international human rights treaties by protecting and preserving the human dignity of all persons regardless of their immigration status.

On the federal level, this would mean implementing the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, including the introduction and passage of the “End Racial Profiling Act,” strengthening the 2003 DOJ guidance to ban profiling based on religion and national origin and eliminating the loopholes that allow for targeting of individuals on the basis of their race and ethnicity in the name of national security, and repeal of 287(g) programs which delegate immigration enforcement authority to specific local police agencies.

On the state level, a first step would be the passage of the anti-racial profiling legislation by the Georgia Legislature to ensure collection of data related to a person’s race and background upon traffic and pedestrian stops and the availability of the data to the public, as well as providing comprehensive annual training for law enforcement regarding racial profiling.

On the local level, it would mean the repeal of 287(g) agreements which have led to racial profiling and abuse of power by law enforcement. 287(g) has led to fear and mistrust of law enforcement among immigrant communities, as shown by an ACLU of Georgia report (PDF) released in October 2009, focused on the implementation of the program in Cobb County. The report, which was based on interviews with 10 community members and five community advocates and attorneys, also showed that 287(g) has had a devastating impact on immigrant communities through creating an atmosphere of isolation by the tearing apart of families.

Gwinnett County recently became the fifth agency in Georgia to implement a 287(g) agreement, delegating certain immigration enforcement powers to local law enforcement.

Immigrants in Gwinnett deserve the rights afforded them by the virtue of their humanity and as reaffirmed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights treaties ratified by the U.S. We hope that the Gwinnett Commissioners will take a step towards fulfilling their obligations under international human rights treaties by endorsing the human rights resolution we presented to them this morning.

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