New York, March 15, 2018 – With over 250 programs worldwide serving migrants, including shelters, SIMN is well-versed in the reality of large migration movements. In our experience, we find that stark distinctions between regular and irregular migrants and migrants and refugees do not reflect what is happening on the ground, which is what the GCM is trying to impact. A person can meet the definition of a migrant or refugee, or can be seen as an irregular migrant or regular migrant, all at the same time.
For example, an individual or family can be seeking family reunification at the same time they have a valid protection need. We see this in our experience in working with Central American migrants, who can be fleeing organized criminal networks at the same time they are trying to reach a parent or other family member in the United States. Because in some cases they are fleeing generalized violence, these persons or families may not receive asylum protection in the United States, even though their return may result in harm or even death.
A bright distinction between regular/irregular and migrants/refugees also impacts families, as some in the family unit may qualify for protection under a nation’s laws, but not other members of a family unit. More families are migrating globally, especially women with children. Children are particularly at risk in these situations, as they may face separation from a parent in some cases, or may be forced to go back to a dangerous situation with their parent.
Moreover, a lot depends on the type of screening mechanisms nations employ and whether they meet due process standards. Persons who cross an international border seeking protection are not breaking the law—they are not irregular and deportable—until they receive appropriate asylum review.
However, they often are treated as such, as they are detained for extended periods of time, unable to access legal representation, and at times are dissuaded from applying for asylum, despite having a valid claim. Often how they are viewed is how they may answer the first questions from an enforcement officer, not how they are viewed by an adjudicator or judge. We also witness situations in which mixed movements are responded to with deterrence policies which deprives all people access to protection—interdiction and return schemes, family separation at borders, push backs, and the closing of borders, to name a few. These tactics should be discouraged in the Global Compact.
What should member states do to fill the protection gaps? Other than assuring fair and transparent due process, they should add tools to their tool box of legal remedies, so that persons with protection needs who do not meet the refugee definition can receive some form of protection. This could include humanitarian visas and parole, temporary protected status, or visas for special classes of persons—abandoned and separated unaccompanied children, victims of domestic violence, and victims of human trafficking. We support Objective 5, paragraph F in the compact and ask that these classes be added to that paragraph.
In general, we urge language be added to say that a goal of the Compact is to increase regular and legal pathways as a means to reducing irregular migration and in protecting vulnerable migrants. This language should be added to the guiding principles.
We are in agreement with the Holy See and other member states that migrants have certain rights, regardless of status, and should be afforded access to necessary basic needs assistance. We agree with Objective 22 regarding the right of migrant workers to receive social security and earned benefits, regardless of legal status. Member states should not accept their sweat equity and then deprive them of retirement benefits they have earned. Additionally, personal information of migrants for these purposes or other immigration benefits should not be used for enforcement purposes.
We concur with the recommendations of the Civil Society statement regarding implementation and review, with a timeline for implementation, capacity building mechanisms and financing, and a robust role for civil society, including faith-based organizations, in implementation. We continue to call upon member states to add specific goals, targets, and indicators to the Compact.