Juliana Morris is a 24 year-old aspiring public health professional and lifelong UU who attends the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stonybrook. For the past year, she has been working as a research assistant on the southern Mexico border, learning about the health and vulnerability of migrants. She won the UUA’s “Crash Course for Immigrant Justice” Essay Contest by writing about her experiences there. In the future, Juliana hopes to study medicine and to continue working on health and social justice issues.
A loving immigration policy would work to preserve the human rights of migrants in all aspects of the immigration process: in their settlement into their communities in the United States, the journey it takes them to get there, and in their home communities that they leave behind.
I am currently working on the southern border of Mexico with Central American migrants who cross Mexico headed to the United States. Migrants in this region suffer major abuses. Due to their vulnerable situation, many people take advantage of them, discriminate against them, and exploit them for their own interests. Local thieves, police, migration officials, bus drivers, and employers have all been guilty of these types of actions. As a result of this situation, there are appallingly high rates of human rights abuses against migrants. For example, according to the 2008 Migration Forum in Madrid, Spain, eight out of every ten female migrants that enter Mexico through its southern border are raped at some point during their journey through the country.
Even though these events do not take place on U.S. soil, U.S. immigration policy plays a part in creating the dangerous situation in southern Mexico.
Firstly, if it were easier for Central American migrants to enter the United States through legal means, they wouldn’t have to risk an illegal crossing through Mexico because they could obtain a transitory migrant visa. They could cross without having to hide; legally and safely. The U.S. needs to increase the opportunities for legal entry into the country in order to decrease the vulnerability of migrants in transit and to prevent human rights abuses throughout Mexico.
Secondly, in recent years the U.S. has put pressure on Mexico to beef up its immigration control through international forums such as the Regional Conference on Migration. In addition, the U.S. has financially supported various immigration control efforts of Mexico. Many experts believe the U.S. is exerting its influence for its own border-control interests; in order to diminish the number of immigrants reaching and attempting to cross the Mexico/U.S. border. These efforts have led migrants to increasingly hide during their journey and have therefore increased their vulnerability. The U.S. needs to stop pressuring Mexico to enact policies that serve U.S. interests and lead as an example in enacting policies that preserve migrants’ rights.
In order for comprehensive immigration reform to protect the human rights of migrants, it must take into account these two issues. It must increase opportunities and the feasibility of legal entry for migrants. It must involve a true dialogue with Mexico that looks for lasting solutions and does not pressure Mexico to act in U.S. border-control interests. In addition, it must take into account the other aspects of migrants’ experiences, by striving to protect the human rights and dignity of immigrants in the United States and by working to ensure possibilities for development and growth in sending communities. Loving immigration policy must depart from a global perspective and take into account its effects on the well being of migrants throughout their journey.