Remarks to the UN General Assembly on the Global Compact for Migration Resolution

Andrew Veprek
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration

New York City
December 19, 2018


Thank you, Madam President. The United States cannot support the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration. We therefore object to the adoption of a resolution that welcomes the adoption of a Compact rejected by some member states. We are not bound by any of the endorsements, commitments, or outcomes stemming from the Compact process or contained in the Compact itself.

We note that several Member States have expressed concerns about the Compact, as well.

The United States proclaims and reaffirms its belief that decisions about how to secure its borders, and who to admit for legal residency or citizenship, are among the most important sovereign decisions a State can make. They are not subject to negotiation or review in international instruments or fora.

The United States maintains the sovereign right to facilitate or restrict access to our territory, in accordance with our national laws, policies, and interests, subject to our existing international obligations.

Further, we believe the Compact and the process that led to its adoption, including the New York Declaration, represent an effort to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of States to manage their immigration systems in accordance with their national laws, policies, and interests.

We are concerned that Compact supporters, recognizing the lack of widespread support for a legally-binding international migration convention, seek to use the Compact and its outcomes and objectives as a long-term means of building customary international law or so-called “soft law” in the area of migration.

We are particularly concerned by the novel use of the term “compact” to describe the document. Unlike standard titles for international instruments, “compact” has no settled meaning in international law, but it implies legal obligation. Hence, the Compact is amenable to claims that its commitments are legal obligations or at least evidence of international consensus on universal legal principles. The United States objects to any such claims and holds that neither the Compact nor any commitments by States to implement its objectives create any legal obligations on Member States or create new rights or protections for foreign nationals as a matter of conventional or customary international law.

The Compact fails to distinguish adequately between foreign nationals who have legal status in host countries and those who are unlawfully present. Strengthening control over borders is central to national security, economic prosperity, and the rule of law. The way we talk about crossing international borders should reflect the centrality of law, and the need for such movements to be in accordance with national laws. In the United States, foreign nationals who are not lawfully present are not “irregular” – they are illegal aliens violating the laws and immigration policies of our nation and are subject to prosecution and removal.

The Compact does not sufficiently address the large numbers of foreign nationals residing illegally in many States. In many countries, citizens – including those who themselves emigrated from other countries – are concerned about this phenomenon, and it undercuts their faith in the ability of their governments to faithfully execute their laws. In democratic nations, where governments are responsive and accountable to their citizens, it also hurts the ability of States to consider implementing new forms of legal immigration.

The Compact intentionally downplays the costs of immigration to destination countries by failing to account for legitimate concerns and debates related to national security; the loss of employment opportunities, especially for lower-skilled and more vulnerable citizens; declining social trust; and stresses on public services and benefits. As President Trump said in his September 2017 address to this body, “For receiving countries, the substantial costs of uncontrolled migration are borne overwhelmingly by low-income citizens whose concerns are often ignored by both media and government.”

In sum, the Compact strikes the wrong balance. Its pro-migration stance fails to recognize that lawful and orderly immigration must start and end with effective national controls over borders. It lists many desirable outcomes, but fails to acknowledge that the effective security of States’ borders must precede all other objectives. This undermines its credibility as an effective roadmap for addressing the migration challenges all States face.

In addition to our broad concerns regarding emerging attempts to “globalize” migration governance at the expense of State sovereignty, the United States has specific objections to Compact text and objectives that run contrary to our law and policy. These include, but are not limited to:

Calls in the Compact to prevent all instances of intolerance against foreign nationals or to promote certain perspectives for media professionals in how they report on or characterize foreign nationals raise concerns about respect for freedom of opinion and expression and media freedom, core tenets upon which the United States was founded.

The Compact’s calls for eliminating or adjusting detention requirements for illegal aliens run contrary to our interest in establishing an orderly immigration process that promotes the rule of law.

Calls in the Compact for governments to allow all temporary foreign workers to change jobs once in a country will affect the ability of governments to define and manage their labor needs effectively and prevent the displacement of national workers.

The Compact sets the expectation that States provide greater levels of social services and benefits to foreign nationals than they might consider appropriate to provide. All States provide and regulate access to social services in various ways and with various capacities, and the United States does not have international obligations pertaining to the provision of social services to aliens who are not refugees.

The Compact encourages the “firewalling” of service and benefit provision within governments to protect the privacy of aliens and to eliminate the potential that aliens will avoid services to which they are allegedly entitled. The United States promotes information-sharing among relevant departments and levels of government, in accordance with our national laws and policies, to promote the steady enforcement of our laws.

The Compact’s references to a range of international instruments that many countries have not signed or ratified creates a false sense of implicit international support and recognition for such documents.

The Compact seeks to establish broad frameworks and regulatory processes to facilitate immigration-related remittances. We believe remittance policies are correctly addressed through existing financial cooperation mechanisms, such as the G-7/G-20, Financial Stability Board, and Financial Action Task Force, to avoid contradicting existing laws, standards, and practices or acting at cross-purposes with current work streams, including those that seek to prevent the transfer of illicit and terror-related funds.

The Compact mentions a “right to family life” and other rights to privacy and legal identity. We are concerned that the way these terms are used throughout the Compact creates false representations of the actual rights represented in relevant international human rights instruments.

The Compact, in paragraph 14, also references “win-win cooperation.” We continue to oppose this phrase, which has been promoted by a single Member State to insert the domestic policy agenda of its Head of State into UN documents.

The United States distributed a statement on the Compact to all UN Member States on December 6, and we would refer states to that statement for a detailed list of our objections.

While the United States honors the contributions of the many immigrants who helped build our nation, we cannot support a Compact or process that imposes or has the potential to impose international guidelines, standards, expectations, or commitments that might constrain our ability to make decisions in the best interests of our nation.

As President Trump said in his September address to this body, “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.”

For these reasons, the United States has called for a vote. Thank you, Madam President.