Facing South

Exclusive: New U.S. border law violates U.N. human rights guidelines

Facing South
Facing South
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Reports that 2008 could be a bad storm season has many along U.S. coasts nervous. But a growing number of immigrants are especially concerned in the wake of news that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents will check the immigration status of individuals fleeing a hurricane.

In an excellent piece in The Brownsville Herald (Texas), reporters Laura Martinez and Kevin Seiff talk with immigrants on the U.S./Mexico border who face devastating choices if the law if enforced:

On Friday, a group of undocumented women discussed the issue over lunch. For some, it was the first they had heard of the Border Patrol's plans.

"Instead of offering us help when we need it most, they're threatening us with deportation," Patricia said. "It's like they're taking advantage of a disaster to go fishing for undocumented immigrants."

"I live an old house that would never make it through the storm," Maria said. "But this leaves me with no option but to stay there."

"It's like they're asking us to commit suicide," Patty said.

The law is also at odds with guidelines created by the United Nations -- and endorsed by the United States -- for dealing with victims of natural disasters: the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

As the Institute for Southern Studies documented in a recent report on Hurricane Katrina and human rights, the U.N.'s Guiding Principles specifically call on governments to protect the rights of all people affected by calamities like a storm. Principle 4 specifically prohibits "discrimination of any kind" at any stage of the disaster response, including discrimination based on language, national origin, or "legal or social status."

The U.S. never formally ratified the U.N.'s Guiding Principles -- although it has ratified parts of them in other treaties, and has publicly embraced them. As we document in our report, as recently as 2004 the Bush administration explicitly called for "wider international recognition of the U.N. Guiding Principles in Internal Displacement as a useful framework for dealing with internal displacement."

Given the Bush administration's stated support of the U.N. Guiding Principles, how did the U.S. border patrol's new law -- which clearly violates U.N. guidelines -- come into effect?

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