Undocumented Immigrants and Their Rights to Family Life

by Kentaro Sakamoto

Is it OK to treat someone unfairly for something that is not his/her fault? Most people will probably answer “No” to this simple question, but in reality, many children of undocumented immigrant families are treated differently for something that they are not responsible for. Let’s see the case in the United States, where it has roughly 1 million unauthorized children (Passel and Cohn, 2011). Most of them were brought to America by their adult family members (Poe, 2012). They go to American schools and they are part of American society, but since they do not have American citizenship, they cannot do things that regular Americans can do, such as getting a driver’s license, getting a passport, getting scholarship for their education, and getting a job legally. Some of them had not even know that they were undocumented until they decided to get a job or a driver’s license. However, undocumented immigrants raised in the United States are now starting to stand up for their rights. Many organizations demanding equal rights for them have been formed, calling America to change its laws (Immigrant Youth Justice League, 2013). Thanks to their effort, President Obama announced that he will stop deporting certain young undocumented immigrants. He also supports giving them a chance to officially become legal residents if they go to college or serve for the military for 2 years, which can give them the qualification to apply for U.S. citizenship (Poe, 2012). The situation of undocumented children are starting to change, and more people are starting to recognize their rights.

However, they still cannot fully enjoy the rights that other ordinary Americans do. Their rights to family life are not guaranteed. Moreover, this right is not only a problem for undocumented children, but also for children with American citizenship who have undocumented parents. Families have been divided due to the difference of legal status within the family; the parents are deported while their children are allowed to stay in the country (Cave, 2012). These children have to make a very difficult decision, either to stay in America without their parents or to follow them to a country they do not know much about. This is not merely a problem in the United States, but it also became a sensation in Japan when the situation of Calderon family was reported in the news. They were forced to be separated because of the father and mother’s undocumented status. Noriko Calderon, the daughter of the family who was allowed to stay in Japan due to special measures, had two choices: staying in Japan by herself, or going to the Philippines with her deported parents. She eventually decided to stay in Japan, where she was born and raised and where she had all her friends, and in compensation, she had to make her farewell to her parents. Her right to family life was violated.

The right to family life is determined in Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) ratified by 193 countries and regions (Tanaka et al., 2013). The article says all children have the right to live with their parents unless it creates an environment that is bad for them, such as child abuse (Ibid). America hasn’t ratified this treaty yet (Ibid). Japan ratified, but it declared to interpret Article 9 from its own viewpoint to justify family separation caused by deportation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, n.d.). This attitude is criticized by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, asking Japan to change its distinctive interpretation of the article (Ibid). Unfortunately the two major countries that call themselves the ‘champion of human rights’ are violating this right while many other countries are protecting it.

Since the right to family life is an internationally recognized right, countries such as the U.S. and Japan should protect this by ensuring children to stay with their family in the place where they are raised, regardless of their legal status. Children themselves are not responsible for what kind of legal status they or their parents have. Laws in general are made to protect human rights and ensure fairness, and this general principle of law should be applied to all community members contributing to the society, especially if they are raised in the community. Therefore, I think laws violating the community members’ rights (in this case, the rights of children who are raised in the community by their undocumented parents) should be changed immediately. Japan anyway needs more immigrants to support its economy, and the government is actually trying to accept more of them from outside of the country (Gi, 2000), but I think it will be much smoother if we accept those who are already living in Japan, those who know how to live in this country, and those who have their friends, husband, wife and even children here. Why can’t we protect the rights of our community members?

References

Cave, D. (2012, June 18). American children, now struggling to adjust to life in Mexico. The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/world/americas/american-born-children-struggle-to-adjust-in-mexico.html?pagewanted=all

Gi, H. (2000, June 9). Nippon de kurashitai: Huhou taizai kazoku tachi no kizuna [We want to live in Japan: The bonds of illegal immigrant families]. Fuji Terebi [Fuji Television]. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www.fujitv.co.jp/b_hp/fnsaward/backnumber/back/00-167.html

Immigrant Youth Justice League. (2013). About us. Immigration Youth Justice League. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www.iyjl.org/about-2/

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. (n.d.). Dai ikkai houkokusho shinsa: Jidou no kenri ni kansuru iinkai kara no shitsumon ni taisuru kaitou [Examination of the first report: The answer to the question asked by the Committee on the Rights of the Child]. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/gaiko/jido/9605kaito/

Passel, J. S., & Cohn, D. (2011). New patterns in US immigration, 2011: Uncertainty for reform. University of California, Davis. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://migrationfiles.ucdavis.edu/uploads/cf/files/2011-may/passel-new-patterns-in-us-immigration.pdf

Poe, C. (June 16, 2012). DREAM Act: Obama stops deportation of children of illegal immigrants. The Washington Times. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/ad-lib/2012/jun/16/dream-act-obama-stops-deportation-children-illegal/

Tanaka, N., Yakushiji, K., Sakamoto, M., Asada, M., Kiriyama, T., Obata, I., & Shibata, A. (2013). Beshikku Jyouyakushu [Basic documents of international law]. Tokyo: Toushindo.

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