Human Rights Impact Statements: An Immigration Case Study

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The United States has long criticized other governments for their human rights abuses. Yet violations at home often go unobserved by both the government and the general public. A more proactive domestic policy, however, could prevent some of these human rights violations. Using Congress’s mandate for environmental assessments and environmental impact statements as a model, this article proposes that domestic actors undertake human rights review of proposed legislative and agency actions. This review process should both generate information about the impact of policies on individuals as well as influence substantive decision making.

Such a proposal raises many design issues. This article addresses some of these questions including: (1) which policies should be subject to human rights impact assessments; (2) who should conduct them; (3) which human rights will be measured; (4) whether public participation should be included; and (5) what consequences ought to flow from a human rights assessment or impact statement. This article uses experiences under environmental statutes as a guide, but ultimately leaves these questions open for further investigation.

I chose to use immigration as a case study for my proposal as increasing many scholars and advocates suggest that human rights law provides a viable framework for protecting migrants, while the actual practice on the ground is quite limited. The federal government has voiced some limited support for human rights generally, but it boasts a weak track record in regards to the ratification and implementation of human rights treaties. Although the formal immigration system supposedly builds in respect for human rights, such a system at best only acknowledges the abuses that migrants might suffer at the hands of other governments. More generally, immigration quotas reflect political exigencies such as who the United States considers political allies and a preference for highly skilled workers. Given the limitations on increased ratification and implementation of human rights treaties, this paper proposes an alternate mechanism for bringing human rights home to migrants.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285
JournalGeorgetown Immigration Law Journal
StatePublished - 2008


  • Human Rights
  • Immigration


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