The United Nations is meeting in Jalisco, Mexico, this week to better understand the global state of migrants and refugees, an issue that has strained countries around the world in recent years.
But one key player will be missing from the talks.
In the lead-up to the conference, which supports a voluntary global pact created in 2016, the United States announced that it will not be participating.
“Our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone,” said Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, in a statement. “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.”
The question of sovereignty was echoed by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“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,” Tillerson said in a statement on Sunday.
Since its inception last year, the US has participated in talks surrounding the pact, including this past April under the Trump administration, according to Al Jazeera.
The withdrawal, however, is consistent with the Trump administration’s “America First” outlook, which has elevated domestic interests over international ones by, among other things, slashing foreign aid, tightening immigration and refugee policies, and reneging on foreign agreements, according to The New York Times.
But critics of the move question the rationale offered by the administration, the Times notes. They say that the conference and the broader pact on migrants and refugees both respect US sovereignty by not forcing the country to provide aid or assistance or change policies. Instead, the meeting is simply meant to get countries to talk through and explore solutions for a growing problem. From this perspective, according to France24, the US doesn’t have much to gain by leaving.
“An unwillingness even to negotiate international principles for safe, regular and orderly migration is a head-in-the-sand denial of a basic reality of human history,” Bill Frelick, the refugee rights program coordinator at Human Rights Watch, told the Times.
Globally, there are 65.6 million displaced people, the highest number ever recorded. Throughout the world, those displaced are often deprived of basic human rights such as food, water and sanitation, health care, shelter, and education.
People displaced in Chad, for instance, are facing a crisis of malnutrition and ongoing violence. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh had to survive an ethnic cleansing in neighboring Myanmar. Central American refugees searching for safety in Mexico and the US are regularly subjected to human trafficking. A migrant child trying to reach Europe is exploited every 30 minutes.
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The withdrawal follows a pattern of cutting ties with the UN. Earlier in the year, the US announced its plans to leave the Paris climate agreement, end funding for the cultural agency UNESCO, and cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which offers family-planning services.
For other UN delegates, the loss of US leadership is discouraging, according to Al Jazeera.
The UN General Assembly president Miroslav Lajcak tweeted his disappointment.
“[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,” his spokesperson told Al Jazeera. “[The US] has the experience and expertise to help ensure that this process leads to a successful outcome."