New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), Vol. 42, 2009


The United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Migrant Worker Convention or Convention) is one of the United Nations' nine core human rights treaties. The United States has neither signed nor ratified the treaty. Despite various reports and articles assessing potential ratification of the Convention by European and other countries, and an even more robust literature examining potential U.S. ratification of other UN core human rights treaties, there has been no examination of the potential for U.S. ratification of this Convention.

The Convention is the most comprehensive global attempt to grapple with labor migration, a problem of dramatic international and domestic scope. The more than 24 million immigrants in the American workplace represent nearly 16% of the U.S. labor force. U.S. business continues to press for lower immigrant worker wage and housing standards, making the foreign-born an especially likely replacement for American workers in recessionary times.

Ratification of the Migrant Worker Convention is desirable because, by prompting a vision of migrant workers as rights holders, the Convention would shift the American political climate toward policy reform. This would help to break through the current domestic political stalemate and build-up of undocumented immigrants. Ratifying the Migrant Worker Convention would also advance agendas important to both the right and the left, including increased national security through enhanced standing with the global south and an improved humanitarian situation for one of America's most vulnerable groups.

An analysis of the United States' relationship to human rights treaties reveals that active negotiation, followed by delayed Executive signature and Senate consideration, are the norm. Seen within this historical context, the current lack of attention to the Convention appears typical of U.S. human rights treaty ratification practice, though the delay has been somewhat exacerbated by the controversial nature of immigration policy. The article proposes a typology for assessing treaty provisions, and uses this framework to analyze the Migrant Worker Convention’s potential impact on five politically sensitive U.S. questions: legalization, border policies, expedited removal, family unification for legal workers, and worksite raids.


Human Rights Law | Immigration Law

Date of this Version

February 2010