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Hemispheric Conference on International Migration:
 Human Rights and Trafficking in Persons in The Americas

Kelly Ryan
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
ECLAC Headquarters, Santiago, Chile, 20-22 November 2002

TOPIC 2: HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS AND REGIONAL SECURITY

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

I would like to express the appreciation of the Government of the United States of America to the Government of Chile, for hosting this important event and for extending a warm welcome to all of us.

In 2001, Heads of State and Government of the Americas, meeting in Quebec City at the Third Summit of the Americas, renewed their commitment to hemispheric integration and national and collective responsibility for improving the economic well-being and security of their peoples. The Quebec Declaration specifically acknowledges the contributions made by migrants to receiving societies and to their countries of origin, and commits participating countries to ensuring the dignified, humane treatment of migrants, with appropriate legal and human rights protections, including safe and healthy labor conditions. More specifically, the Quebec Plan of Action commits governments to strengthen regional and bilateral cooperation on migration issues, to establish an Inter-American program within the OAS for the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants and their families; to exchange information on trafficking networks; and to develop preventive information campaigns on the risks faced by migrants, particularly women and children. This conference supports the mandates of the Quebec Plan of Action relating to migration and trafficking in persons. It is my pleasure be here today and express my Government’s commitment to the Quebec Plan of Action, and to the issues being discussed in this Hemispheric Conference, the first of its kind.

Migration and trafficking in persons are important issues to me. At the U.S. Department of Justice, where I worked before joining the Department of State, I had responsibility for developing parts of our regulations implementing the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act of 2000. This legislation is the direct result of the great importance my government places on the issue of trafficking in persons. The Act mandates, among other things, that the U.S. Department of State issue a yearly report on the status of trafficking in persons in the world, and on the efforts of governments to combat this scourge. The law created, for example, the so-called ‘T visa’ to provide protection to victims of the most severe forms of trafficking who cooperate with law enforcement against those responsible for their condition. Under this part of the statute, when a trafficking victim suffers "extreme hardship" involving unusual and severe harm if returned to their home countries, this new T visa allows them to remain in the United States. After three years in T status, these victims of human trafficking may apply for permanent residency. Subject to some limitations, the regulation also allows victims to apply for non-immigrant status for their spouses and children. Victims under the age of 21 may apply for non-immigrant status for their parents as well.

The U.S. has been focused, with governments around the world, in combating transnational organized crime. We have signed the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air, as well as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Over one hundred countries have signed these Protocols. We congratulate Chile, our host country, for its August 2002 signature of the Protocols, and we encourage others in the Hemisphere to do the same.

Turning to migration, it is interesting to consider that most migration occurs within national borders. As was noted this morning, only 3 percent of the world’s population resides in a country outside their country of origin. Yet when we talk of migration, most of the time we focus on this small segment of migrant flows. The United Nations estimates that in the past 25 years, the migrant population living outside their native countries has doubled to some 175 million people, of whom nearly a quarter live in North America. We also know that most Latin American countries experience "out-migration," and that Caribbean nations have some of the world’s highest rates. Our Census Bureau estimated that in 2000, 10 percent of the total U.S. population - or 28 million persons -- was born abroad, with half of the foreign-born persons coming from Latin America. This migration phenomena is certainly worth spotlighting. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are all part of a Hemisphere on the move.

Again from my country's perspective, we view migration as positive and believe that immigration serves our national interest. The United States is a nation of immigrants. As President Bush said in his remarks at Ellis Island during a large swearing in ceremony for our new citizens: "We're a diverse country, and getting more diverse - and these virtues are what keeps this great country together. Believing in them and living by them, this great land will always be united."

Of course, certain changes in our immigration practice have been required since 9/11. As a result of the horrendous attacks a year ago and our ongoing war against Al Qaida and international terrorism, my country is engaged in a debate that touches on our core values, a debate that may take quite a while to work through: how do we reconcile our openness to immigrants with the need to protect ourselves, in the most fundamental way, from this new threat to our national security? I can’t tell you exactly where this debate will come out, but I do know that, as we are devising new measures to protect U.S. national security and interests, we remain steadfastly determined to continue to welcome newcomers, and to provide protection, refuge, and assistance to those who need it. Undeniably, heightened security concerns underscore the importance of orderly migration. Illegal movements of persons can be considered a threat to national, as well as international security. Our challenge remains to create borders closed to illegal migrants, smugglers and traffickers, and yet open to legitimate flows, including persons in need of protection. As President Bush said in Monterrey earlier this year: "We will build a border that is more open and more secure. And we will confront the issue of migration in a spirit of mutual respect."

Our concerns with regard to migrants are not exclusively security-related, however. We are also concerned about their fair treatment. Open and orderly migration not only protects migrants and their families from dangerous smugglers and traffickers; it can also protect them from exploitation or discrimination, including from abusive employers. Unfortunately, where there are migrants, there can also be manifestations of racism, xenophobia, or discrimination against them. Some believe that labor migrants contribute to unemployment by taking jobs from the native born, and that they can be a burden on the social welfare system. Yet studies on the economic impact of immigration in several developed countries have shown that immigrants overall represent a positive factor in the economy, leading to job creation and economic growth. The United States believes that maintaining a generous immigration policy is vital to the health and well-being of our society.

I would like now to talk specifically about migrant women, who may be particularly vulnerable to discrimination, abuses, and other crimes. We know that in the past few years, larger numbers of women have been migrating in search of employment or family reunification. Those who stay behind when their husband migrates likewise often face challenges as heads of households. Low-income women in either situation confront many difficulties, including the responsibilities of caring for families weakened by separation, lacking access to health care, education, or job opportunities. Migrant women and children often are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, and are easy prey for smugglers and traffickers. For these reasons, we believe we must pay special attention to the situation of women and children in developing humane and fair migration policies. We have also learned the importance of women’s groups to assist those returning home especially to help and protect minors, single women, and female head of households.

Other countries in the Hemisphere share our view on the importance of this issue. The Quebec Plan of Action mandates the promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality. Last month, the UN Secretary General presented a report to the Security Council on Women, Peace, and Security, calling, for example, for greater representation of women in formal peace negotiations. The report points out serious gaps in legal protections for women in conflict situations around the world, and emphasizes the need for extensive capacity-building activities to help develop women’s skills. My Government is strongly committed to addressing these issues, in part by giving particular attention to the need for expanded access to education for women and girls.

Also of concern, is the increasing number of "street children" in cities, large and small. Most become street children in their countries of origin. More and more, however, become displaced outside their countries of origin – Honduran children in Vancouver, Salvadoran and Guatemalan children in the U.S., for example. Many of these children undertake the long journey from their home country to North America alone, in the hope of reuniting with their families. They sometimes become lost or stuck in transit, or fall prey to smugglers, traffickers, and other unscrupulous characters. Our countries must also craft policies that respond to the special needs of migrant children. My government, for instance, has undertaken a special campaign to combat the smuggling of migrant children to the U.S. We hope you will join us in this effort.

In closing, my country hopes this Conference, which supports the Quebec Plan of Action, will permit us to engage on best practices and policies. I look forward to continuing our discussions here and in other fora on migration and trafficking in persons. We can and should use the existing mechanisms such as ECLAC, the OAS (including the Inter-American Commission of Women – CIM), the Summit of the Americas, the Regional Conference on Migration (RCM), and the south American Conference on Migration (SACM) to link and strengthen our work. Much has been done over the past few years at national and regional levels, as well as through international bodies, on migration and related issues. These include border security, smuggling, trafficking, gender equality, respect for women’s human rights and dignity, and access to education and economic opportunities. We should not shy away from the challenge to link these efforts. We must explore ways to strengthen ties between the various on-going efforts in our Hemisphere, thereby making them even more effective. We hope that this Conference in Santiago de Chile will act as a springboard for expanded discussions, both to address the legitimate needs of migrants, and to take effective measures to eradicate trafficking in persons - issues of common concern for all of us in the Western Hemisphere.

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December 09, 2002

 

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