On Friday, July 13, the United Nations took steps towards completing an agreement focused on improving human rights for global migrants. The agreement, known as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, was first adopted as an initiative at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2016, and at the time was heavily favored by all 193 members. The first major goal was to protect the rights of refugees and migrants in ways such as assuring safe resettlement and helping them get access to employment and education. Since then, it has grown into a global compact that promises to improve the way governments handle migration, focusing in particular on the human rights of migrants. The agreement has been in development since April 2017 and was completed last Friday. It is expected to be formally adopted this December at a meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco.
The pact has garnered attention not only because it addresses an important global issue, but also because the United States is no longer involved in its negotiations. Although the U.S. had been part of the talks since the beginning and President Obama had been a strong supporter of the initial declaration, the Trump administration abruptly ended the United States’ involvement last December, indicating that the agreement would hinder its power to control its borders. Migrants rights advocates noted that the decision to withdraw appeared to reinforce the image of the Trump administration as isolationist. They cautioned that the refusal to participate was “shortsighted and counterproductive”. However, administration officials countered that its decision was merely a defense of American sovereignty and national security, not an unwillingness to cooperate with other countries. Still, the decision was celebrated by President Trump’s base as well as several conservative websites, many of whom have demanded stricter laws against immigration since the campaign trail.
The completion of the Global Compact comes in the midst of a major immigration crisis in the United States. The Trump administration has faced bipartisan uproar due to a policy set forth by the government in May 2018 that required DHS officials to separate asylum seekers from their children at the border. The policy was vehemently decried and has now been effectively ended by a federal judge. This lack of regard for the basic rights of migrants seems to confirm the initial fears of migrants rights advocates when the U.S. pulled out of the decision-making process. Back in December when the decision was first announced, Bill Frelick, an official at Human Rights Watch, said that the United States had demonstrated “a callous disregard for the lives of migrants and jaw-dropping irresponsibility toward the community of nations”. This comment was echoed by Kevin Appleby, the international migration policy direction at an immigration rights advocacy group, who observed that the Trump administration seemed to care more about the whims of its base “than working with the world on a pressing global issue”.