UNITED NATIONS (CNS) — Human-centered migration policy empowers individuals, promotes security and produces the best and most sustainable outcomes for all people involved, according to speakers at a U.N. event July 15.

Humane, safe, orderly migration preserves the dignity of those who migrate and respects security concerns in their destinations and transit locations.


The panel discussion on “Human Development, Human Security and Migration” was sponsored by the International Organization for Migration and the Center for Migration Studies and convened as a side event to informal interactive hearings on the U.N. High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.

“Often when we talk about immigration and security, there is a tendency to blame the immigrants or migrants. Migrants are not choosing to migrate purely voluntarily. Many migrants, especially in the United States, are economic refugees,” said Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. He spoke in Spanish, through a translator, and in English.

Benitez, a farmer, said he left Mexico for the U.S. when he was displaced by the effects of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA. When it was signed, supporters said the goal of the pact was to eliminate barriers to trade and investment between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, but its critics say that it has created a trade imbalance between the U.S. and Mexico, putting Mexican farmers out of business.

“We are prepared and proud to work and we consider agriculture honest work. But we are not prepared for the disrespect and violation of human rights that happen every day in agriculture,” Benitez said.

He attributed widespread verbal and sexual abuse of migrant workers to economic pressure from corporate agricultural producers. “They place a lot of weight on the quality of the product, but not on the conditions under which it is produced,” he said.

Benitez described how the Coalition of Immokalee Workers painstakingly implemented a Fair Food Program to meet the needs of both the workers and the producers. His organization won an increase of 1 cent per pound of tomatoes picked by migrants in Florida and sold to fast-food restaurant corporations. The modest increase has a minimal economic impact on the corporations, but represents a significant increase for the pickers, he said.

“It’s a win-win situation. The corporations can be more certain that tomatoes are free of slave labor, the growers have a more stable work force and we the workers begin to have a dignified life for what we are doing,” Benitez said.

Donald M. Kerwin, director of the Center for Migration Studies in New York, said subsidiarity, or devolution, is the best organizational principle for human-centered migration policies. “This concept empowers individuals by pushing down decisions to the persons, groups or competent authority closest to the issue, most affected by it, and most knowledgeable about it,” he said.

Civil society, the array of nongovernmental and not-for-profit entities that are freely formed by members of a community to express their interests and values, is integral to human-centered migration and development, Kerwin said.

“Civil society can educate the public and policymakers that rights represent a moral claim to a shared good that benefits all,” he said. Civil society organizations also play “an indispensable role in instilling the cultural, moral and religious values that give people’s lives meaning and inform their choices.”

Kerwin said civil society has a role in identifying and informing states about issues, as well as meeting some needs on its own. “Subsidiarity holds that there are some responsibilities that states not only cannot meet, but some that they should not meet. On the other hand, there are some challenges that states must engage but they cannot meet alone, like migration and development, climate change.”

He said consideration of human security moves the discussion of migration away from a narrow preoccupation with border control, detention and criminalization of migrants and “focuses it instead on the issues of insecurity that drive irregular and crisis migration.”

“At their best, human security policies protect the powerless from the powerful,” Kerwin said.

Michele Klein Solomon, permanent observer of the International Organization for Migration to the United Nations, said her organization takes a human security approach to migration, which places the individual at the center of its concerns. “It’s a collective and conscious effort to look at human beings with dreams, goals and aspirations,” she said.

Klein Solomon said her organization promotes individual and community security. “We believe in an approach that is humane and safe, respects national sovereignty and recognizes the age-old right to migrate to improve conditions,” she said.

Environmental factors have become a strong element in the decision to migrate, she said, especially in deforested areas or in small-island developing states with rising sea levels. She said environmental degradation exacerbates existing vulnerabilities.

“We’re trying to make it possible for people to stay home and create alternate livelihoods. Most people want the opportunity to stay home,” Klein Solomon said.

Benitez said it is not yet known how farmers will be treated in the current political discussion about immigration reform. “Farmers are always in limbo,” he said.

The moderator of the discussion was Father Leonir Chiarello, executive director of the Scalabrini International Migration Network.