BOSTON – The Boston Bar Association (BBA) has established a set of four principles that define its core values with regard to immigration-related issues, which will serve as a foundation for the BBA’s ongoing engagement in this area.
“As lawyers, we are concerned that rapid shifts in immigration enforcement have created a climate of fear and uncertainty which curtails the ability of immigrants to assert their rights. We established these principles because we recognize the need to articulate our stance and create a framework for action to defend immigrants against increasingly frequent attacks on their liberty,” Immediate Past BBA President Mark Smith said.
The BBA Council, under Smith’s leadership, established a working group of immigration law experts and volunteer BBA leaders to study sweeping changes in immigration policy and enforcement practices. The group has created a clear set of guiding principles in response to their findings. They have also produced a report outlining the BBA’s role in advocating for immigration policy changes and the reasoning on which they based the four principles.
The principles read as follows:
Principle 1: Immigration is a defining feature of the American experience. Immigrants play a critical role in the civic, economic, and cultural life of our city, state, and country.
Boston is largely a city of immigrants, no less now than in the past. Our history, culture, economy, and traditions have been shaped by immigration, and the unique and valuable contributions of immigrants continue to strengthen our city’s civic, economic, and cultural life.
Principle 2: No person’s rights or human dignity should be devalued on the basis of immigration or citizenship status.
All human beings are the bearers of fundamental rights and freedoms that are embodied in the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 to establish a common standard of fundamental human rights that should be protected for all peoples and nations). National governments must respect human rights when people enter their countries, and judicial systems must uphold these rights. The BBA affirms that all human beings have these fundamental rights, regardless of how they entered the United States.
Principle 3: The constitutional right to due process and equal protection, guaranteed to every person regardless of immigration or citizenship status, must be protected and enforced.
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that all people in the United States, including undocumented immigrants, are guaranteed protections under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (right to due process of law) and Fourteenth Amendment (right to due process and equal protection under the law). The BBA insists that these protections must be fully upheld and enforced.
Principle 4: Every person should have the full and meaningful ability to exercise their rights and to access justice through the legal system regardless of immigration or citizenship status, level of income, or economic circumstance.
The BBA asserts that immigrants, like all other residents of the Commonwealth, must be free to access courthouses, law enforcement agencies, and other governmental agencies without fear that doing so will lead to immigration detention or deportation. The BBA also believes that immigrants in removal proceedings should be provided with a lawyer to ensure they are able to exercise their rights and legal options to the full extent possible. Finally, the BBA believes that immigrants must have access to a fair legal process with independent judges when seeking immigration relief.
Guided by these principles, the BBA Council adopted three specific immigration policy positions at its most recent meeting. The positions address the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in courthouses, the separation of families at the southern border of the United States, and the fairness and independence of the immigration adjudication system. You can read more about those positions here .
“What has happened in our country with regards to immigration law is very striking. Internationally recognized human rights exist in addition to the rights associated with citizenship, and we are all bearers of human rights. Historically, the BBA has stepped up to defend disenfranchised groups from unlawful treatment, and it is more important now than ever to stand with immigrant communities in the United States,” said Shiva Karimi, co-chair of the BBA’s Immigration Law Section and a member of the working group.
“Many Americans are descendants of immigrants who were not warmly welcomed by those who came before,” working group chair and BBA Vice President Martin Murphy, partner at Foley Hoag, said. “History teaches that our government–and our courts–have often failed to protect the constitutional rights of recent arrivals. As lawyers, and as a bar association, we must be vigilant guardians of the rule of law, and be vigilant to ensure that it protects all people—including all immigrants—when their rights are under attack.”
Thanks to a grant from the Boston Bar Foundation, we will be releasing translated versions of these principles in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Brazilian Portuguese, Vietnamese and Simplified Chinese. The translated versions will include resources for individuals facing legal issues related to immigration, and we look forward to working with our community partners to circulate them.