A group of independent United Nations experts today expressed their serious concern over a new immigration law enacted in the state of Arizona, questioning whether the legislation is compatible with international human rights treaties which the United States has signed on to.
“A disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established with the adoption of an immigration law that may allow for police action targeting individuals on the basis of their perceived ethnic origin,” the experts warned.
The new law requires that state law enforcement officers determine the immigration status of people based solely on a “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the US illegally, and arrest people without a warrant if officers have “probable cause” to believe they are illegal aliens.
“The law may lead to detaining and subjecting to interrogation persons primarily on the basis of their perceived ethnic characteristics,” the UN experts stressed, with those who appear to be of Mexican, Latin American or indigenous origin at heightened risk of being targeted.
In a press release issued in Geneva, the experts called into question the “vague standards and sweeping language” of the Arizona legislation, “which raise doubts about the law’s compatibility with relevant international human rights treaties to which the United States is a party.”
The law specifically targets day labourers, criminalizing both undocumented migrants’ efforts to solicit work and people’s attempts to hire them.
Under the law, being in the country illegally is punishable by up to six months in jail.
The UN experts today pointed out that countries must respect and ensure the human rights of all people under their jurisdiction without discrimination.
“Additionally,” they emphasized, “relevant international standards require that detention be used only as an exceptional measure, justified, narrowly tailored and proportional in each individual case, and that it be subject to judicial review.”
Around the same time the law was adopted, legislation was passed prohibiting Arizona school programmes “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
The state’s school superintendent, who promoted this legislation, has repeatedly said that the law is targeted at cutting out current ethnic studies programmes featuring the history, social dynamics and cultural patterns of Mexican-Americans.
“Such law and attitude are at odds with the State’s responsibility to respect the right of everyone to have access to his or her own cultural and linguistic heritage and to participate in cultural life,” the UN experts underlined. “Everyone has the right to seek and develop cultural knowledge and to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information.”
While recognizing that States have the prerogative to control immigration and take steps to protect their borders, “these actions must be taken in accordance with fundamental principles of non-discrimination and human treatment,” they said.
Further, the experts emphasized, “States are obligated to not only eradicate racial discrimination, but also to promote a social and political environment conducive to respect for ethnic and cultural diversity.”
The experts signing onto today’s press release are: Jorge Bustamante, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people; Farida Shaheed, Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights; Vernor Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on the right to education; and Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on minority issues.