Filling the Migrant Rights Gap: Localized Protections of International Economic and Social Rights

Barbara Frey, Ana Melisa Pardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Under international law, economic and social rights should apply equally to noncitizens unless distinctions in their protection are necessary and proportionate to a legitimate state objective. There is no legitimate state objective to deny food, shelter, or healthcare to noncitizens. Despite this, federal and state governments in the United States take no express affirmative responsibility to respect, protect, or fulfill the economic and social rights of undocumented migrants. The authors designate this lacuna in state protection as a “migrant rights gap.” Nonstate actors, including churches and nonprofit organizations—often supported by public funding—work informally to fulfill the minimum core economic and social rights of migrants, as shown through a case study of several organizations in the state of Minnesota. These organizations do not see their work with irregular migrants as “human rights work,” nor are their well-intentioned efforts an efficient or fair way to close the migrant rights gap.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-150
Number of pages15
JournalPublic Integrity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 3 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Most of the financial support for the Catholic Sisters’ Clinics comes from public subsidies received from the state and county. Primary-care clinics are not generally restricted from using public funds to address the health needs of a specific population. Indeed, certain subsidies from the state health department are earmarked for education and outreach to underserved communities, including Latinos, on public health concerns such as prevention of diabetes, cervical cancer, and uterine cancer. In 2013, for instance, through its Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative, the Minnesota Department of Health funded the CSC’s work through the Mexican consulate, Latino community organizations, and Latino parishes to provide outreach, education, screenings, and diabetes care. (Minnesota Department of Health, 2013) Far from being scrutinized for serving irregular migrants, CSC officials noted that their initial decision to work with Latinos was actually prompted by the Minnesota Department of Health’s offer of resources to create programs to meet the needs of this particular population. CSC’s work with the migrant population is the result of a “subsidies culture” (Requena, 2008) that drives agencies to provide services based on available funding.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Copyright © American Society for Public Administration.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • economic and social rights
  • human rights
  • migration
  • nongovernmental organizations


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