Immigration has long been one of the most contentious issues in contemporary American politics. Seldom has a day passed in this 2012 election season without a firm statement from one political party or another about the need to initiate reform in light of the current system’s clear and present failures. However, all discussion of the matter has thus far has been predicated on American domestic security concerns—that is to say, how to best close “porous” American borders to protect American jobs and citizens in a time of high unemployment and rising social service cost. Virtually no substantive discussion has been had regarding how the system as a whole might be fixed to better ensure the protection of human rights of both US citizens and migrants.

To find this discourse, one must look south to Argentina where in 2010 President Cristina Kirchner signed into law one of the hemisphere’s most progressive migration laws. The new Migration Bill (Ley de Migraciones) and subsequent decree by President Kirchner responded directly to a case brought before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), in which an Uruguayan migrant sought reprieve from his detention and subsequent expulsion without any judicial order after more than 24 years of residency. His case led to the formation of a panel including representatives from the IAHRC, Argentine government, and various non-state actors to reexamine migration policy in the region. The case was brought to a close in 2004 with the proposition of Law 25.871, which abrogates the “Law Videla” (La Ley Videla), a migration act drafted during the nation’s military dictatorship, and creates a formal process to regularize the immigration status of countless Argentine residents.

Like many others around the globe, Argentina’s immigration policy before 2003 was deportation-centric and implicitly designed to ensure that undocumented migrants could not access the social services afforded Argentine citizens. However, the state has since undergone a transformation in terms of policy and rhetoric. According to Diego Morales, a lawyer with at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) in Buenos Aires, the Ley de Migracion offers the state a tool that can help facilitate the economic and social integration of immigrants. It provides legal pathways and aid that allow immigrants to obtain residency and access free health care and education. It also makes all residents of neighboring countries eligible for Argentine citizenship regardless of their employment status in Argentina.

As Morales wrote in 2010, the Migration Law is [t]he first in the world to adopt the principle of migration as a human right. Indeed, he states that:

[…] the UN Convention on the protection of migrants’ rights does not go so far. The regulation hopes to strengthen [the] policy of non-discrimination against foreigners; incorporates freedom of movement, access to justice, prohibition of expulsions without a due judicial control, and the reduction of reasons of detention of migrants occurring in the country [sic].

More than 500,000 individuals have initiated the procedure since the law’s implementation. However, as Morales sees it, it is “still too soon” to evaluate the effects of the new law on the living conditions of migrants. Non-governmental organizations cite improved living standards in the lives of undocumented migrants as they rise from the shadow economy of Argentina. However, many migrants have thus far chosen to remain in the informal sector despite the new legislation.

There is much the US could learn from this policy even at its early stages of implementation. Reframing migration from a security standpoint to a human rights issue would allow for more substantive and less-polarizing discussion on the topic to unfold. The rights and protections afforded migrants should be the priority in policy debates. Let us hope that whoever sits in the Oval Office come January 2013 will begin to see this inherently human issue as such.