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Migration & the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Categories: Alexia Raynal, ZiR


In the midst of the heated debate on U.S. immigration policy, Erika Eichelberger’s article for Mother Jones stands out for a new critique. Eichelberger observes that migrant children might be better treated if the United States would have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. One of the treaty’s largest provisions (Article 3) urges countries to act in the best interests of the child. Thus, ratifying would pressure the White House and Congress to prioritize reuniting kids with their family members in the US instead of rushing to deport them. Contrary to what could be inferred based on observation of domestic legal proceedings:

US law does not require undocumented children to be provided with an attorney to help them through immigration proceedings, leaving them vulnerable to judges rushing to send them back home. (President Barack Obama did recently request $15 million from Congress to provide some of the children legal counsel.) Under the treaty, children seeking asylum are supposed to be provided with legal representation, according to the panel that oversees implementation of the agreement. That’s one reason why ratifying it might “put more pressure on the State Department to take a much bigger role” to live up to these obligations, [says Naureen Shah, a legislative counsel at the ACLU.] The Obama administration has technically signed the treaty, signaling symbolic support for its child protection provisions, but the Senate has not ratified it, which would require implementing the treaty into enforceable domestic law.

Eichelberger’s article has helped to clarify questions I had about the United State’s failure to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, enforced globally in 1990 except for the U.S. and Somalia. Then again, she adds:

Ratifying the treaty isn’t a sure-fire guarantee that migrant kids would get better treatment. After all, the United States is already in violation of other international human rights treaties it has ratified that prohibit the country from returning immigrants to countries where they will be tortured, persecuted, or killed, says Michelle Brané, an immigration detention expert at the Women’s Refugee Commission. Many of the kids crossing the US border are fleeing targeted violence. Nevertheless, “if we signed onto this [children’s] treaty,” the ACLU’s Shah says, “it would be even more crystal clear that the US has these obligations” to protect the child migrants.

—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor

To read more posts in the fields of children and childhood by Alexia Raynal, visit her ZiR page here.

Cover image of child refuges at the US Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona, featured by Mother Jones on 8-05-14. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

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