Ambassador Harper: Migration Challenges – We Must Identify and Protect the Truly Vulnerable

Statement by Ambassador Keith Harper

At the Human Rights Council Panel Discussion
Promoting tolerance, dispelling myths, protecting rights: An evidence-based conversation on migration

Geneva,
December 15, 2015

Thank you High Commissioner Zeid for this important discussion on promoting tolerance and protecting rights in regards to migration. Thank you also to the other panelists for sharing your views and generously telling us your compelling stories.

As the world faces new forms of extremism, radicalization of foreign fighters, and other security challenges, there are increasing political sensitivities surrounding migration and security.

But the answer is not to build fences higher.  

The answer is that international migration needs to be humanely managed to ensure security, stability and respect for the individual human rights of migrants.

This will help maximize the social and economic benefits of migration.

Security threats and challenges can erode public confidence and fuel political debates on border security and immigration that can result in “blaming” security threats on migrants and refugees.

In this context, Governments have a responsibility to counter fears that new arrivals will undermine the country’s security and political and cultural stability.  Governments should promote positive perceptions of immigrants and migrant workers and the contributions they make to host societies.

Furthermore, in many places, migrants are erroneously perceived as a drain on an economy or a burden on society, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.

In the United States, research shows that the overall effect of immigration on wages and tax revenues is overwhelmingly positive and OECD data show similar findings elsewhere, including in the U.K, Italy, and Spain.

One solution is to promote more legal avenues for migration.  Legal programs recognize the economic benefits of migration while also keeping participants safer.

The fewer legal options there are, the easier it is for smugglers and other criminals to step into the void.  Workplace protections are necessary too, to stop exploitation and allow migrants to contribute to and benefit from the societies in which they live.

U.S. policy promotes safe, humane, and effective international migration policies.  These play a critical role in supporting family unification, enabling inclusive economic development, enriching the cultures of host countries, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of immigration status, and encouraging cooperation between states.

We grapple with issues of migrants and refugees in the United States, highlighted by conversations taking place across the country after terrorist attacks in Paris and in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings.  Fear is powerful.  It is easy for some to forget what their country stands for in such an environment of fear and panic.

But as President Obama recently said: “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic.  We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”

Citizens’ concerns about security are legitimate.  But we must remember that those who should be blamed for criminal acts are the criminals who committed them.  We should not project our fears on people due to their religion or country of origin.  Rather, we should take the affirmative step of dispelling these myths and lending a helping hand to those who need it most.

In the United States, while our leaders strongly oppose xenophobic comments and feel a moral compulsion to speak against anti-migration speech, we do not think the answer is to ban speech.  Banning speech leads too often to undermining freedom of expression, especially for minorities and the politically disenfranchised.  The best way to fight bad speech is more speech and good speech.

We thank the Office of the High Commissioner for this opportunity to dialogue on this important topic.  We look forward to continuing engagement with his Office and other member states.

Thank you.