By Catherine Crowe, SAF Intern
On February 23rd, the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University hosted a symposium on Unaccompanied Child Migration to explore the ethical implications of unaccompanied minors crossing national borders. The symposium featured three speakers who have all done significant work with migrant youth- Jacqueline Bhabha, Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Susan Terrio.
The symposium focused on the contradictory treatment of unaccompanied minors caught crossing the US-Mexico border in its dichotomy between protection and punishment. Should these children be treated as innocent youth or potential criminals with gang affiliations? Jacqueline Bhabha noted that as a country we are profoundly ambivalent about their deservingness and cited a conversation she had in which the children were described as runaways and throwaways. Many have heard immigrants explained as disposable populations or seen their presence in the US reduced to that of a labor supply.
Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco urged us to see migration in a new light. He said, “Immigration is an ethical act of the family.” It is a way for a member of the family to be in and provide for the family without being physically present. He repeated that mass migration was the face of globalization. He also stated that globalization gave rise to people without the rights to have rights- the stateless and those without authorization to live in their country of residence.
Marcelo also addressed some of the pull factors for migrant workers and stressed the need to understand the state’s role in facilitating and encouraging migrant labor. He claimed that there was nothing more permanent than temporary workers. While many see this phenomenon as a flaw in the system, he argued that it was actually our immigration system that encouraged migrant workers to work in the US temporarily with visas like H2A with the hidden intention that they continue to work permanently, regardless of legal status.
The State then is responsible for the agricultural sector’s dependency on undocumented workers and child labor. Without a supply of workers coerced into working precariously, we would have to actually address the unsustainability and dehumanizing nature of agricultural work including the many legal exceptions that make agricultural work so difficult (like the exemptions from minimum wage, overtime, and workers compensation). As Marcelo stated, we are living in a world in which, “the ethics of rights are cannibalized by the ethics of mights. “
The symposium left me with many questions: In a world where markets are de-territorialized and de-nationalized, why don’t we recognize that people, like money and products, have the right to migrate? How can we advocate for policies that begin to address the rights of those who as Marcelo said, "have no right to rights". In an increasingly globalized world, it is time to redefine rights, not as rights dependent on a state but rights that every person inherently has. As farmworker advocates, we believe that everyone has the right to migrate and the right to a good life.