Within the impassioned debate on immigration in the United States, many arguments have been made for comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the US. President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address that allowing talented young undocumented immigrants to legalize their status would brighten the social and economic future of the United States. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York believes such reform is crucial for revitalizing the economy. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has argued that deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants would be ineffective and expensive.

These are all valid policy considerations for the US government. The US government must not forget, however, that there are also human rights reasons for immigration reform. As Human Rights Watch has previously documented, undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses, such as trafficking, rape, and other serious violent crimes. Undocumented immigrants, like everyone else in the US, have a right to protection from such abuses and the right to access remedies, rights that are not adequately protected now.

At the same time, many undocumented immigrants have lived in the US for a long time and have ties to US communities through family, work, education, and civic engagement. Although no single one of these factors entitles an immigrant to legal status, international law recognizes that the case for nationality is strengthened by the extent of an individual's ties to the country. Similarly, long-term residence and deeply rooted ties implicate the human right to respect for one's family and private life, rights that are guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the US has been a party since 1992.

We met the people whose stories are told below in just one small corner of the United States, but there are many others like them throughout the country. In their stories, you will see how human rights are central to the everyday lives of real people living in the US today. The color coding in the stories highlights how specific details of their lives support the protection of these rights. Together with the Human Rights Watch report, "Tough, Fair, and Practical," these stories illustrate how a human rights framework strongly supports a program of earned legalization for undocumented immigrants in the US.

Human Rights Watch thanks the immigrants who generously shared their stories, as well as Professor David Griffith at East Carolina University and Brianna Castro who provided invaluable assistance.

 

Last Best Chance

Last Best Chance brilliantly presents a political legend, Senator Edward Kennedy, in his final battle for comprehensive immigration reform in the US. Seeking legislation that he believes would best serve US interests and provide greater security and dignity to many of the 20 million people currently living in the shadows, Senator Kennedy joins forces with talented allies on the outside to marshal fellow Senators Obama, Clinton, Menendez, Kyl and McCain toward a “Grand Bargain.”

Learn more >

Immigration in the US
Two films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival take on the issue of immigration in the US. Host Amy Costello talks with filmmakers Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson.

Sorry, you need to install flash to see this content.