Migration and Human Rights


Universality is a fundamental principle of human rights: a human being does not lose his or her human rights by virtue of crossing a border. The use of human rights as a framework to evaluate migration policy and enforcement practices is an increasingly important undertaking as forced migration, trafficking, and border control increase worldwide. Faculty projects have addressed the contemporary relationship between migration policy and human rights as well as the history of labor and human trafficking.

Participating Faculty 

Susan Gzesh (The College), Claudia Flores (Law School), Angela Garcia (SSA), Emilio Kouri (History), Benjamin Lessing (Political Science), Johanna Ransmeier (History), Amy Dru Stanley (History), Tara Zahra (History)


Human Rights in Mexico / Protection in the United States

In 2015-16, the Center began a new research and public education project which addresses the relationship between widespread human rights violations in Mexico and the challenges to Mexican asylum seekers who flee to the United States. The binational relationship reflects broader global trends of increasing restriction in a period of greater need for protection by asylum seekers.

In conjunction with a Winter 2016 course on Human Rights in Mexico and with support from the Katz Center for Mexican Studies, the Center presented a lecture series on Human Rights in Mexico, bringing prominent Mexican scholars and practitioners to Chicago. View the series webpage

Seeking Asylum in Hong Kong

Pozen Center Executive Director Susan Gzesh has received support from the University of Chicago Center in Hong Kong to research the situation of asylum seekers in Hong Kong. The participation of volunteer lawyers, NGOs, and the adjudication of claims for protection in Hong Kong appear similar to such efforts in the United States. However, Hong Kong’s unique political status and its geographical location in a region where few countries are parties to the U.N. Refugee Convention and Protocol make potential comparative studies quite intriguing.

Select Past Activities

Workshop: Teach-in on the Syrian Refugee Crisis 
November 16, 2015

At this teach-in, UChicago and UCLA faculty doscussed the highly-publicized fights over refugee quotas between the EU Institutions and its Member States, and implications for Europe’s sense of its ethico-legal obligations towards contemporary refugees and towards asylum protection itself. Panelists included Asli Bali, Susan Gzesh, Anwen Tormey, and Lisa Wedeen. View the event webpage

Conference: Human Trafficking, Labor Migration & Migration Control in Comparative Historical Perspective
October 16-17, 2015

The Pozen Center brought together historians working in diverse geographic fields with activists and policymakers who are interested in the relationships between trafficking and migration, slavery and abolition, and border control and political power across time and space. Presentations at the conference from scholars and practitioners examined labor trafficking historically and globally. The conference was organized by Tara Zahra, Amy Dru Stanley, Johanna Ransmeier, and Susan Gzesh. View conference poster, full program, and photos

Migration in Chicago: Law and History, Advocacy Strategies, Action! 
January 13, January 28, February 11, 2015

This three-part series was an opportunity for students to meet Chicago area practitioners and advocates to discuss US immigration policy from both theoretical and practical perspectives. Students also learned tips about pursuring career paths in policy analysis and advocacy. It was organized with UChicago student organizations UChicago Amnesty International, International Policy Program at the Institute of Politics, and the Partnership for the Advancement of Refugee Rights (PARR). View event poster

Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age
October 7 and 21, 2014

This series first featured a talk with author Jacqueline Bhabha about her new book, Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age, moderated by Maria Woltjen of the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights. The second session was a panel discussion about the current crisis of children on the US-Mexico border. Panelists included Jajah Wu (Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights) and representatives of the National Association of Latin American and Caribbean Communities and the National Immigrant Justice Center, moderated by Susan Gzesh of the Pozen Center. View the series poster

Petition to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights

In 2014, Pozen Center Executive Director Susan Gzesh worked with the University of Chicago Law School International Human Rights Clinic, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and a national network of NGOs to bring a petition on behalf of Central American and Mexican migrant children to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Read more about the petition.

Conference: Forced Migration and Humanitarianism in Global History
November 15-16, 2013

This conference addressed the conceptual frameworks that have informed reactions to forced migration. Faculty coordinators were Andrew Janco (Human Rights Post-doctoral Lecturer) and Tara Zahra (History). Members of the University of Chicago and local NGO communities also attended. View the conference program.

Conference on Migration and Human Rights

In 2007, the Program partnered with Tinker Visiting Professor Jorge Durand and the Center for Latin American Studies on a conference and a special edition of the journal Migracion y Desarrollo (Universidad Autonoma de Zacatecas) on the same topics. View event agenda

Activist Fellows Roundtable: Migration, Development, and Human Rights

From 2002 to 2004, the Program hosted a three year series of symposia for advocates and scholars from the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador on migration, development, and human rights. Faculty participants included: Andreas Feldmann (Human Rights), Susan Gzesh (Human Rights), Alan Kolata (Anthropology), Emilio Kouri (History), and Saskia Sassen (Sociology).

Related Courses 

Human Rights: Alien and Citizen | HMRT 24701 (offered most years) 
Susan Gzesh (The College)

The fundamental principle underlying the concept of human rights is that rights are inherent in the identity of all human beings, regardless of place and without regard to their citizenship, nationality, or immigration status. Human rights are universal and must be respected everywhere and always. This course will address whether and how international human rights protect the alien (or foreigner) who has left his or her country of origin to work, seek safe haven, or join family or friends in another country, using materials and readings from various disciplines.

Human Rights in Mexico | HMRT 24501 (offered some years)
Susan Gzesh (The College)

This course is intended to give the student a foundation in understanding human rights as both concept and reality in contemporary Mexico. Subject matter includes an overview of key periods in Mexican history in which concepts of individual and group rights, the relationship between citizens and the state, and the powers of the Church and the state were subject to change. This historical review will form the foundation for understanding human rights issues in contemporary Mexico. The course will also examine modern social movements which frame their demands as human rights.