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"Using the Boston Principles: Fighting for the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Noncitizens,"

by Angela Duger March/April 2013 issue of Poverty & Race

With new state legislation aimed at undocumented immigrants, noncitizens residing in the United States are experiencing increasing violations of their economic and social rights. States legislation enacted over the past 15 years, like Alabama’s HB56 law, has limited the social and economic services available to noncitizens. For example, when originally passed, HB56 barred undocumented immigrants from enrolling in state colleges and universities; authorized local police to inquire about the immigration status of any person stopped if the officer has reasonable suspicion that they are an undocumented immigrant; criminalized knowingly renting an apartment to an undocumented immigrant; and required elementary and secondary schools to inquire about the immigration status of all students. (HB56 was subsequently challenged and most of the provisions were enjoined by the District Court in September 2011 and the 11th Circuit in August 2012. The Alabama Legislature also passed HB658 in May 2012, which amended many of the HB56 provisions.)

The changing nature of federal immigration enforcement and sub-national restrictions on the rights of noncitizens has spin-off effects. Consider, for example, that increasingly families living in the United States are mixed-status families, meaning families are comprised of both citizen and noncitizen members:

“An estimated 14.6 million people are living in some sort of mixed-status home where at least one member of the family is not authorized. Currently, one in ten children living in the United States is growing up in such a household. There are multiple patterns of mixed authorization: 41 percent have one documented parent with the other parent undocumented; 39 percent have two undocumented parents; and 20 percent live in households headed by a single undocumented parent. Within these mixed-status households are also a range of documentation patterns involving siblings: some born in the States with birthright citizenship, some in the process of attempting to obtain documentation, and some fully undocumented.” (emphasis in original) See Suarez-Orozco et al. citation in Resources Box.

State policies directed at noncitizens, in addition to directly denying a broad spectrum of the rights to noncitizens, also indirectly deny the rights of legally documented family members who are citizens.

For example, the fear of a parent’s deportation could prevent a citizen child of a noncitizen parent from accessing public services like education. The first Monday after the passage of Alabama’s HB56 law, news sources reported that 2,200 Latino students were absent from school. This is an estimated 7% of the Latino school population in Alabama. Institutional and targeted discrimination of noncitizens affects not only noncitizens themselves, but also their families, social circles and the communities in which they live.

The Boston Principles on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of Noncitizens (“Boston Principles”) were developed to provide a human rights framework to address the rights of noncitizens in response to the increasing pressures of federal and state policies. On October 14 and 15, 2010, a group of scholars, lawyers, practitioners and advocates met at Northeastern University for a two-day Institute, “Beyond National Security: Immigrant Communities and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.” The event was co-sponsored by the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) and the Human Rights Interest Group of the American Society of International Law. Participants engaged in writing the first draft of The Boston Principles, which was subsequently revised and released for public comment on December 10, 2010, International Human Rights Day. The final version of The Boston Principles was released on May 1, 2011.

The Boston Principles are 30 standards articulating the basic rights of noncitizens, including fundamental human rights concepts such as equality, non-discrimination, human dignity and due process. Recognizing that rights are interdependent, intersectional and collective, a human rights framework accounts for the rights of noncitizens, as well as those of their families and communities. The Boston Principles incorporate the rights to health, education, employment, housing, family life, accountability of government and the protection of vulnerable populations. In outlining the basic, universal human rights of noncitizens, The Boston Principles provide a framework to aid practitioners, lobbyists and advocates in addressing institutional and targeted discrimination against non-citizens.

It has been almost a year since The Boston Principles were finalized, and they are now an operational advocacy framework for advancing the economic, social and cultural rights of noncitizens and combating violations. The Boston Principles are effective because they can be applied to awareness and education campaigns, lobbying efforts and grassroots organizing at both the community and government levels. Holding government authorities accountable for domestic human rights standards requires a concerted effort by human rights practitioners at all levels, and The Boston Principles aids in this effort by providing a unified human rights framework.

Angela Duger was formerly the Ford Foundation Fellow at the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law. She currently works at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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