Immigration, Family Unity, and International Law

by Peter Spiro

Yesterday’s immigrant demonstrations were predictably smaller than last year’s, given the diminished risk that something really bad will come out of Congress at this point (remember, the House had passed a bill making presence in violation of the immigration laws a felony). As reported here in the WaPo, the emphasis at the gatherings was on keeping families intact. The ways in which immigration controls divide families has been getting more attention, and it strikes a natural political chord.

It may also be increasingly framed as a matter of human rights. International law may be coming to protect a “right to family unity” which would impose obligations on states with respect to deportation and admissions policies. See this helpful summary from Kate Jastram at the Migration Policy Institute. That’s not to say that IL is going to formally constrain US discretion in the area anytime soon. But as a discursive matter, the IL hook adds power to arguments that are already pretty compelling.

And sure enough, just as we see an international norm coming over the horizon we see this Administration running in the other direction. (It’s like they’re in some sort of perpetual “opposite day” – as in, figure out what IL would have you do, and then do the opposite.) The Administration’s proposed reform measure, now making the rounds on the Hill, would eliminate quotas for the parents, siblings, and adult children of US citizens. See today’s WSJ editorial on these “anti-family provisions.” Some of these categories (for siblings particularly, for which the wait times have sometimes been measured in decades) don’t cut to the family core, and it would be a stretch to argue that any emerging family unity norm demands that they enjoy a priority status. Still, never underestimate the Administration’s capacity to blunder (allowing for such headlines as this one in the LA Times), even on those few issues on which it has had generally benign intentions. Not that any of this is likely to make much difference: as we head into a presidential election cycle, the odds of comprehensive reform dwindle by the day.

3 Responses

  1. I skimmed the Migration Policy Institute article, and I was struck by the lack of cites to actual state practice. It seems to be a collection of lex lata via schoarly commentary. I am missing something?

  2. Mr. Spiro,

    Not a mention of the disgusting, wanton police state violence of the LAPD on May 1. Are you brain-dead or just soulless? You prattle on about ‘human rights’ but are oblivious to the gathering gloom of technocratic tyranny all about us. Go to the next demonstration, Mr. Spiro, and get your head bashed in by the storm troopers. Maybe that will knock some sense into you. Lawyers like you we have plenty of and would be much better without.

  3. There already are a number of Eur. Ct. H.R. cases holding that deportation/expulsion of an individual that would break up a family violates the right to respect for family (art. 8, ECHR). See, e.g., Nasri v. France (1995); Moustaquim v. Belgium (1991).

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