On International Migrants Day, Government Policies Are Endangering Migrant Lives

Close up of man blocked by a fence

Close up of man blocked by a fence


On December 18, the United Nations celebrates International Migrants Day, a day that commemorates the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) in 1990. According to a summary written by the World Health Organization, “[as] the most recent UN human rights treaty to come into force … [the ICRMW declares that all migrant workers and members of their families] have the right to life (article 9); the right to not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (article 10); freedom of expression (article 13)5; the right to property (article 15); the right to a fair trial (articles 18 and 19); the right to receive urgent medical care (article 28).”

Those that accompany migrants along their journey, however, know that governments do not always live up to their commitments. Often nonprofit organizations, and especially faith-based organizations, must fill in the gaps that government policies create in order to ensure basic needs are met. 

For decades around the world, the Missionary Society of St. Columban has accompanied migrants by providing them with basic necessities like shelter, food, and medication, as well as by advocating for their rights guaranteed under national and international laws. In communities in Britain, Ireland, and along the US/Mexico border, Columbans witness first hand the suffering that migrants are forced to go through in their search for a better life. Policies implemented by those countries put migrants at even greater risk of crime and even death. 

How Border Policies Endanger the Lives of Migrants

For example, along the US/Mexico border, the United States’ government is currently enforcing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico.” This program forces asylum seekers to return to Mexico after they’ve petitioned the US for safety and remain there while they await a court hearing. In the past, migrants have been forced to wait for up to two years. 

While living in limbo in Mexico, migrants often become targets for the organized crime that exists in that country. It’s very common to hear from migrants that they’ve been victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, and extortion. 

Take the case of Zahaira (not her real name) from Guatemala. She arrived at the US/Mexico border in March 2019, after fleeing her country with her three children because of domestic violence, poverty, and political insecurity. She has been living in Ciudad Juarez (across the border from El Paso, TX) since then, waiting on her MPP court hearing. 

Since living in Juarez, she has struggled to find someone who is willing to offer her housing and employment because her teenage daughter was targeted by human trafficking groups. These same groups frequently harass other members of the family too. Local residents are afraid that by welcoming migrants, they will become targets for criminal activity.

Zahaira was only able to find support through the programs offered by the Columban parish in Ciudad Juarez. Zahaira said that she is “very grateful to the people who have helped us, such as the [Columban] parish for the support they have provided, I am very grateful to God for the people He put in my path, because He has not forsaken us.” But if Zahaira had been able to live in the United States while her court date was pending, she would not have been in that vulnerable situation in the first place. 

As another example, take the case of a Honduran family, Daniel, Karina, and Valentina (again, not their real names). They spent over a year waiting in Ciudad Juarez for their MPP court hearing. Karina was pregnant when the family first came to the border and was targeted by human traffickers. She eventually ended up contracting COVID-19 and had to be taken to the hospital for an early delivery of her baby. Their son, Jacob, was born and both did recover. 

While the family was able to cross into the United States during the MPP exception period granted by the Biden Administration, many more families continue to suffer needlessly because of this policy.

The Current Status of MPP and Title 42

MPP was created by the Trump administration and went into effect in January 2019. It was terminated in January 2020 after President Biden took office, but a federal court in Texas ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reinstate the policy in August 2021. The new MPP program was reinstated in an expanded form on December 2, 2021. The court decision is currently on appeal, even though the Biden administration’s expansion of the policy was not ordered by the court. 

The implementation of this policy along with the implementation of Title 42 endangers the lives of many migrants who are being denied their right to ask for asylum and are being forced to stay in a country where they are being targeted by organized crime. According to Amnesty USA, “since [President Biden] took office, human rights investigators have documented over 7,647 violent attacks on people expelled to Mexico. Since September the administration has used Title 42 to expel over 8,000 Haitians to a country in deep crisis.” 

How You Can Stand in Solidarity With Migrants 

There are different ways that people of faith can stand in solidarity with migrants impacted by these inhumane policies. 

President Biden and Vice President Harris need to know that their constituents want them to do everything in their power to permanently MPP and Title 42. You can write to them today at this link. 

You can also donate to the nonprofit organizations that are filling in the gaps that the government is creating. In Ciudad Juarez, the Missionary Society of St. Columban organizes shelters, provides food and other necessities, and sponsors a co-opt so migrants can earn money. You can support these efforts by donating here.

While treaties like the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW) are important, they represent only a beginning on the journey to build a more just and peaceful world. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that governments can adopt a human rights treaty, not live up to its obligations, and face little to no consequences. It is the right and responsibility of all citizens to hold their governments accountable and advocate policies within their country that welcome migrants with compassion and dignity. 

Publication Date
December 16, 2021