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US Withdraws from Global Compact on Migration

=US Withdraws from Global Compact on Migration

On December 2, 2017, the United States (US) mission to the United Nations (UN) informed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the US would end its participation in the process to develop the Global Compact on Migration. In its statement, the mission explained that the US decided to withdraw from the process because “…the New York Declaration contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies and the Trump Administration’s immigration principles.”

The US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley, stated that “America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our long-standing moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations across the globe. No country has done more than the United States, and our generosity will continue. But 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 global approach in the New York Declaration is simply not compatible with US sovereignty.”

In a press release, the General Assembly President, Miroslav Lajčák, stated that he “regrets the decision by the United States Government to disengage from the process leading to the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.” The General Assembly President went on to say that 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.” Lajčák reiterated that “no one State can manage international migration on its own.”

UN Global Conference on Migration

The announcement of the US withdrawal from the process came just before the UN Global Conference on Migration kicked off in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico on Monday, December 4th.  One day prior to the US announcement, the UN Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour had expressed hope that UN member states could communicate their expectations and build consensus during the three-day meeting. The meeting marks the beginning of Phase II of the New York Declaration, in which member states “review and distil the wealth of information, data and views expressed as well as to engage in a constructive analysis that will inform the process going forward.” The purpose of the meeting in Puerta Vallarta was to “provide a platform for delegations and other stakeholders to jointly shape a vision for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.” The intergovernmental negotiations are scheduled to begin after the meeting and in Phase III, which is envisioned to start in February and conclude by July 2018.

Potential Impact and Next Steps

While the impact of the US withdrawal is yet to be determined, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants is a non-binding pact. According to the UN, its purpose was to facilitate international cooperation on migration issues and not to mandate specific laws in individual member states. The Guardian has reported that “the impact of the migration pullout is more symbolic than practical, since the UN never had any illusion that it could control a member state’s policies.”

All 193 UN member states adopted the New York Declaration at the General Assembly in September 2016.  The declaration outlined a path toward two global compacts scheduled to be adopted in 2018, the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration. Both compacts are scheduled to enter the “stock-taking” phase this month. As mentioned above, the discussions on the Global Compact for Migration will begin on December 4th in Mexico under the leadership of Special Representative Louise Arbour with Mexico and Switzerland serving as co-facilitators. The Global Compact on Refugees will be discussed during the UN High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges, which will take place on December 12-13th in Geneva.

As the scheduled meetings get underway, it remains to be seen whether other member states will continue with the process as envisioned in 2016, or if the compacts will include mechanisms to facilitate responsibility sharing and evaluate progress.



Tara Ornstein

Tara Ornstein is a global health professional based in Washington D.C. Tara has researched the intersection between international migration and global health extensively. She has a Master of Public Health from New York University (NYU), where she conducted a situational analysis of TB services for labor migrants in the United States and Russia as part of her graduate studies. While at NYU, she also studied international migration during an intensive onsite course at the Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla in Mexico. Tara’s work has been featured in several peer-reviewed scientific journals including Public Health Action, AIDS, and Plos One among others.