Now that some 191 countries have agreed on the text of the United Nations’ first compact on migration, it’s clearer than ever that the mass-incarceration approach the United States has used to thwart undocumented immigrants fails to meet global standards for human rights.
The text of the Global Compact for Migration was completed on July 13 after six sessions of international negotiation conducted over the past two years, a time when many countries have been engulfed in controversy over immigration. This makes it somewhat remarkable that any sort of consensus was reached. The process isn’t done, though; the next step is a vote on formal adoption, to be held in December at a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. Hungary has dropped out, and others may dissent as well.
President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. participation last Dec. 2 on grounds that the framework for the negotiations “contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with U.S. immigration policy and the Trump Administration’s immigration principles,” as the State Department announced. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley presented this as a badge of honor, arguing that the global compact would infringe on American sovereignty.
That’s not true, since the Global Compact for Migration bills itself as no more than a “non-legally binding, cooperative framework.” It is true, though, that it creates human-rights commitments that conflict with the accelerating trend in the United States to treat undocumented immigrants as criminals.
“Use immigration detention only as a last resort and work towards alternatives,” one of the compact’s twenty-three objectives states. Detention should last “for the shortest possible period of time,” it says, and signatories “further commit to prioritize non-custodial alternatives to detention that are in line with international law.” The agreement adds that “immigration detention is not promoted as a deterrent” to migration.