Dear Senator Reid:

I am writing to express Human Rights Watch's support for passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). The DREAM Act would offer conditional lawful permanent residence status to people who entered the United States as children, lived in the US for at least five years, are of good moral character, and have been admitted to an institution of higher education, graduated high school, or received a GED. The conditional nature of the lawful permanent residence ends with proof of two years of higher education or two years of military service.

International law recognizes the prerogative of every sovereign state to determine who is allowed entry into its country and for how long. Each day, the US government makes thousands of decisions concerning the deportation of individuals, at times causing needless harm to children of immigrants with longstanding ties to the United States. Passing the DREAM Act would at the same time both respect the sovereign prerogative of the United States on immigration and improve the likelihood that those decisions are made in a manner that promotes fundamental human rights recognized by the United States.

Passage of the DREAM Act furthers the commitment of the United States to protect the human rights of immigrants brought to the country as children. It represents a choice by the US to protect long-residing immigrant youth from adverse government action based on the acts of their parents. It would help to shield eligible youth from violence and abusive treatment for which the authorities often provide little protection. And it would recognize the strong community ties of youth and respect their family ties, goals long supported by the US.

Protect the Rights of Children

Under current immigration law regulating deportation, the US often severs a long-resident immigrant child from his cultural, family, educational, social, and religious roots in the US on the basis of the act of a parent. Article 2(2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the US is a signatory, provides that children are to be "protected against all forms of ... punishment" on the basis of the status or activities of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.[1] For children eligible for the DREAM Act, the person deciding to enter the country without authorization is overwhelmingly the parent, not the child. The DREAM Act reforms US immigration policy so that it takes into account the best interests of youth long-residing in the country.

Protect Youth from Violence and Abusive Treatment

Human Rights Watch has reported on greater risk of violence and abusive treatment of children with unauthorized immigration status. Our May 2010 report "Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture" details how vulnerability to deportation (as well as the obstacles to seeking protection by law enforcement) allows violence and abusive treatment against farmworker children to flourish. Our research highlighted how isolation and lack of legal status make girls especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. According to a US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regional attorney in 2009, "There are probably scores of women and girls who are being raped in the fields every day but don't come forward. They're scared." A path to legal status for DREAM Act eligible children would offer an avenue of protection currently unavailable to these children. Authorized status would make it easier for youth who are victims of violence and other abusive treatment to report violations to the police.

Respect Community Ties of Young Immigrants

To better safeguard human rights protected under international law, governments making determinations of all those subject to deportation should take into consideration the connections that immigrants establish with their communities. The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, in its May 2010 report, "Unleash the DREAM," documented the story of Julie Anne Ferrer, who at age three was brought by her mother to the United States from the Philippines. By the time Julie Anne reached high school, her mother had been deported. Julie Anne worked part-time jobs to help support her sisters and her US citizen brother. She attended a youth group at her church and graduated from high school with a 3.5 GPA. Still, she was deported at the age of 20, despite having spent 85 percent of her life in the United States. Under current US law, the immigration judge in Julie Anne's case could not consider her ties to the US, nor her accomplishments while in the US, in her removal proceedings. The DREAM Act would rectify that problem for young immigrants who have established particularly strong ties to the United States.

Protect Family Unity

To be eligible for the DREAM Act, immigrants need to have come to the US as children and must have spent at least one-third of their lives in the United States. DREAM Act-eligible youth often have at least one parent and siblings living in the United States with them. When facing removal, these young immigrants risk being torn apart from their family.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core human rights treaty ratified by the US in 1992, states that "[t]he family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state."[2] The importance of family unity has been recognized by the US Supreme Court, which has held that the "right to live together as a family" is an important right deserving constitutional protection, and that "the institution of the family is deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition."[3] By providing a path to legal status for eligible youth, the DREAM Act recognizes the importance of family bonds.

Human Rights Watch strongly believes that passing the DREAM Act would show a commitment by the United States to respect the human rights of immigrant youth who have resided in the country for a considerable amount of time. "Emily D.," one of the children interviewed for "Fields of Peril," described being brought to the US at age 14 and working in the cucumber harvest in Michigan and Florida. She said she tried hard to stay up to speed in school but often questioned whether she should stay in school because her lack of authorized immigration status prevents her from continuing beyond high school and from finding a job outside the fields. She said she longed to work in a day care center and was taking early childhood education classes but feared she would never be able to work legally. After again returning from Michigan and starting the 10th grade in Florida late, she told us, "I thought, ‘Oh my God I'm so behind.'" Many of her friends, she said, had given up and dropped out.[4]

A vote for the DREAM Act is a vote to support the human rights of young people like Julie Anne and Emily. We strongly encourage you to consider their stories, and the commitments of the United States to promoting family unity and other human rights, when casting your vote.  

Sincerely,

Antonio Ginatta

Advocacy Director, US Program


[1] Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2, 1990. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) provides that a state that is a signatory but not yet a party to a treaty "is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose" of the treaty. Ibid. article 18.

[2] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm (accessed November 23, 2010), article 27. The US ratified the ICCPR on June 8, 1992,

[3] Moore v. City of East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 500; 503 (1977).

[4] Human Rights Watch interview with Emily D. (not her real name), central Florida, March 22, 2009.