WASHINGTON - The United States has failed to uphold its international obligations to protect the human rights of migrants, subjecting too many to prolonged detention in substandard facilities while depriving them of an adequate appeals process and labor protections, a United Nations investigator said.
In the international body's first scrutiny of US treatment of its 37.5 million noncitizen migrants, UN investigator Jorge Bustamante on Friday took particular aim at what he criticized as the "overuse" of detention for immigrants.
Noting that the annual detainee population has tripled in nine years to 230,000, he called on the United States to eliminate mandatory detention for certain migrants and instead expand the use of alternatives, such as electronic ankle bracelets.
Bustamante also urged that migrants be given the right to legal counsel, more impartial hearings, and improved holding facilities, particularly for women and children.
"The United States lacks a clear, consistent, long-term strategy to improve respect for the human rights of migrants," said his report, which was presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday. Bustamante serves as the body's Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
In a statement to the council, the US delegation called the report disappointing.
The report "focuses only on a narrow slice of the migrant population in the United States and makes no effort to recognize notable, positive aspects of US migration policy," the statement said. "This results in an incomplete and biased picture of the human rights of migrants."
The delegation said the United States had one of the world's most generous immigration policies, offering more than 11 million migrants green cards, citizenship, asylum, refugee resettlement, and temporary protected status between 2000 and 2006. The UN estimates that global migrants number 200 million, with the United States by far the largest haven with 35 million as of 2000.
Kelly Nantel, spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also criticized Bustamante, saying he did not adequately consider the voluminous information provided him by US officials documenting migrant protections in place here.
Those include the right to seek administrative review of detention and deportation decisions, along with access to federal courts to challenge removal orders.
Bustamante "has made a number of inaccurate or misleading claims and has drawn sweeping conclusions that appear to be based on anecdotal evidence from a small sample of individuals, for which he fails to provide appropriate evidence and reasoning," Nantel said.
At the US government's invitation, Bustamante visited seven cities last year to interview dozens of migrants, community activists, immigration attorneys, and senior government officials.
He toured the US-Mexican border and visited an Arizona federal detention center but was denied access to facilities in Texas and New Jersey.
© 2008 The Los Angeles Times