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December 11, 2018

Compact on Migration Adopted, But Without America

In Marrakesh, Morocco yesterday, 164 of the world’s nations adopted the Global Compact on Migration, a non-binding framework aimed at encouraging multilateral cooperation on international migration.

The United States was absent. The Trump Administration pulled the United States out of compact discussions late last year, disingenuously claiming the compact could undermine national sovereignty and border security. Nikki Haley even implied the compact would allow non-Americans to make decisions about American immigration policies. 

Other countries followed, starting with Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s increasingly authoritarian rule is based in large part on the vilification of migrants. Orbán has, among other steps, threatened to criminally prosecute human rights groups that work with refugees and migrants. More recently, other countries—including Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Australia—pulled out.

An Economist piece notes that the European debate “has little to do with its ostensible target,” the compact itself, but instead has “everything to do with the smoldering embers of a culture war that the drastic reduction in illegal immigration since the surge of 2015 has failed to extinguish.” The Washington Post reported that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and far-right French politician Marine Le Pen denounced the compact in a rally together last weekend. The secretary general, in Marrakesh on Monday, condemned the disinformation and myths that inflamed discussions on the compact. 

In its statement Friday, the State Department claimed the compact was “an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of States to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws, policies and interests.” But the compact makes clear it is a “non-binding” document.  

The compact does, however, affirm the legal reality that migrants have human rights. These rights are protected under treaties and law, including conventions the United States has ratified. Trump Administration officials—or at least their lawyers—must realize their punitive migration detention and family separation policies violate existing U.S. human rights obligations. For instance, while the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits arbitrary detention, the Trump Administration has tried to block release regardless of whether, in individual cases, continued and often prolonged detention is necessary, proportionate, or otherwise arbitrary.

Instead of leading global efforts to address migration challenges and preserve human rights, the Trump Administration is leading global efforts to thwart them. This agenda hurts American interests. The United States needs countries of origin and destination to work together on migration. Upholding human rights law safeguards global stability. By using the compact as an opportunity to fear-monger, letting domestic policy political considerations override the country’s actual interests, the Trump Administration is leading a race to the bottom. This is the wrong choice for the world—and for America.