Video, Report, and Platon Photos Show Lives at Stake
July 24, 2014
The stories of those who yearn to unite with family, to become the newest citizens of the United States, and suffer so much in pursuit of that dream, remind us that immigration is not merely a political or economic issue. Immigration reform is needed to protect basic human rights, including rights that have been central to US life and history.
Grace Meng, US researcher

(New York) – The public debate over the recent surge in child migrants across the US border with Mexico should spur Congress to reform US immigration policy, Human Rights Watch said today, releasing a multimedia feature jointly with Time magazine and Platon/The People’s Portfolio. 

“Torn Apart” features photographs and video interviews with immigrants, whose often heart-wrenching stories – of families separated, of constant fear and anxiety, of lives lost on the border – underscore the urgent need for the US government to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.

“The stories of those who yearn to unite with family, to become the newest citizens of the United States, and suffer so much in pursuit of that dream, remind us that immigration is not merely a political or economic issue,” said Grace Meng, US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Immigration reform is needed to protect basic human rights, including rights that have been central to US life and history.”

Human Rights Watch collaborated on the project with Platon, an award-winning photographer internationally acclaimed for his iconic magazine cover images.  The People’s Portfolio is a non-profit dedicated to using photography to advance human dignity.

Human Rights Watch also issued a new report on US immigration issues. The sweeping immigration bill passed by the US Senate in June 2013, while flawed, would go a long way toward fixing the country’s broken immigration system and ending the unnecessary suffering of millions of immigrants and their families, Human Rights Watch said.

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, Senate bill 744, includes a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants in the US and would allow many families to stay together. It would also reduce many of the risks unauthorized immigrants face, and reduce the number who, out of desperation, seek to enter the US illegally.

The stories presented in the feature demonstrate the hardships many migrants suffer under the current system:

  • Unauthorized immigrants and even lawful permanent residents are frequently detained and deported without regard for their right to family unity – the right to remain with their family members, including US citizen spouses, children, and parents;
  • Unauthorized workers are highly vulnerable to abuses such as unpaid wages and sexual harassment, yet are often afraid to seek justice, for fear of being reported to immigration authorities and deported; and
  • The rapid growth of the US Border Patrol and beefed-up enforcement at the US borders with Mexico and Canada have led to an increase in allegations of abuse and unlawful deaths of migrants, many of them children and adults fleeing violence and persecution or seeking to reunite with family in the US.

Human Rights Watch called on President Barack Obama and the US Congress to move quickly on comprehensive immigration reform in line with the following principles:

  • Respect and protect families;
  • Protect immigrants from workplace violations and crimes;
  • Provide a legalization process that effectively protects the basic rights of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants; and
  • Focus enforcement efforts on genuine threats and protect due process rights for all.

“Heightened enforcement alone cannot counter the desperation of so many immigrants,” Meng said. “If Congress really wants to do something about the tens of thousands of children trying to cross the border alone, it should seek a comprehensive and permanent overhaul of a bewildering and arbitrary system.”