U.S. Pulls Out of Global Compact on Migration

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 22, 2017

In an October post, I listed a number of problems with the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), particularly as that compact related to our national sovereignty and the control of our nation's immigration policy by its elected representatives.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson announced that "the United States has decided to end participation in the UN process to develop a Global Compact on Migration (GCM)." In his statement, he explained:

Negotiations on the GCM will be based on the New York Declaration, a document adopted by the UN in 2016 that commits to "strengthening global governance" and contains a number of policy goals that are inconsistent with U.S. law and policy.

While we will continue to engage on a number of fronts at the United Nations, in this case, we simply cannot in good faith support a process that could undermine the sovereign right of the United States to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders.

The United States supports international cooperation on migration issues, but it is the primary responsibility of sovereign states to help ensure that migration is safe, orderly, and legal.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley highlighted these points in her statement on the U.S. withdrawal from the GCM process: "Our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. ... We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country."

The U.S. move was criticized by the president of the U.N. General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák. In a statement, Lajčák asserted that he "regret[ted] the decision by the United States Government to disengage from the process leading to the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration," contending that "no one State can manage international migration on its own." He continued:

The role of the United States in this process is critical as it has historically and generously welcomed people from all across the globe and remains home to the largest number of international migrants in the world. As such, it has the experience and expertise to help ensure that this process leads to a successful outcome.

The President stresses that migration is a global phenomenon that demands a global response and that multilateralism remains the best way to address global challenges. In that regard, he counts on the support of all Member States to arrive at a common understanding of this complex issue.

In my October post, I detailed some of my "concerns about the effects of the ultimate global compact on the national sovereignty of the United States, and on the federal government's ability to control our nation's borders." In addition, I noted that the September 2016 declaration that was the genesis of the proposed compact had "the capacity to exacerbate the issues that the compact is ultimately intended to address."

These were not the only aspects of the GCM that were problematic, however. In fact, the rationale for the GCM is itself of significant concern.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published a blog post on July 13, 2017, captioned "Why the UN Global Compact on Migration matters". EPI stated therein:

The GCM is expected to include provisions on thorny issues such as forced removals (deportations) and the detention of child migrants. However, it will also cover intergovernmental cooperation related to migration for the purpose of employment (labor migration), including proposals to increase channels for labor mobility and to achieve the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, approved in September 2015, have 17 goals and 169 targets to reduce poverty while promoting inclusive and sustainable development. Each target has several indicators to track progress.

To recap, one of the purposes of the GCM is to achieve the U.N.'s SDGs. Those SDGs can be found on the UN website; one is of particular interest as it pertains to the United States' decision to discontinue its participation in the GCM.

Specifically, SDG 10 is "Reduce inequality within and among countries", and it has 10 targets (numbered 10.1 to 10.7 and 10.A to 10.C). Target 10.7 of that goal is to: "Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies."

Thus, in order to "[r]educe inequality ... among countries," the U.N. has a target of facilitating "orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies." Put more simply, the U.N. wants to even out the inequalities among countries through the movement of people around the world in an orderly fashion.

This is a tall order. According to the most recent estimates from the World Bank (from 2013), 767,000,000 people (10.7 percent of the world's population) lived on less than $1.95 a day. In fact, the CIA Factbook states that 40.5 percent of the population of Angola, 66.2 percent of Sao Tome and Principe, and 72.3 percent of Zimbabwe live below the poverty line. By comparison, the official U.S. poverty rate was 12.7 percent in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Such poverty is not limited to Africa, however. Again, the CIA reports that the percentage of the population living below the poverty line is 46.2 percent in Mexico, 58.5 percent in Haiti, 29.5 percent in Pakistan, 28.6 percent in Lebanon, and 27.8 percent in Colombia. Even in Latvia (a member of NATO), 25.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Were the United States to continue in the GCM, and were that compact to push to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, this country would essentially have to implement an open-borders policy to even make a dent in the inequality among nations. Specifically, we would have to allow millions of low-skilled, low-income migrants to work and/or permanently resettle in this country to shift, ever so slightly, the balance of international inequality.

In a December 13, 2017, post, my colleague Nayla Rush, noting that the United States announced its withdrawal from the GCM two days before a scheduled three-day meeting on that compact in Mexico, argued persuasively that: "The U.S. could have attended this meeting to present the new administration's take on immigration issues and explain why it was unable to pursue its collaboration beyond this point." Had the United States attended that meeting, it likely would have spoken not only for itself, but for many other countries about the flaws in the GCM, and the risk that the compact posed to the sovereignty of each Member State. This was likely a lost opportunity.

Whenever the United States decided to withdraw from the GCM process, however, the important thing is that it did so. The United States' immigration policy is at the heart of its national sovereignty, and it was right for Secretary Tillerson, Ambassador Haley, and the Trump administration to strike a blow for that principle.