Human rights are a key focus in the studies of regime dynamics, especially for those who analyze democratic transition and consolidation. Political science scholarship on human rights used to examine the conditions of political rights and civil liberties, dwelling on their promotion, protection and expansion in established or emerging democracies, or on their restrictions and abuses in authoritarian regimes of various stripes. The scope of inquiry has greatly expanded to include socioeconomic dimensions of human rights. Topic issues for both research and discourse now include immigrants’ rights, migrants’ rights, minority’s rights, natives’ rights, gender equality, sexual harassment, LGBTQ rights, generation justice, abortion versus unborn children rights, basic income rights, and so on (see, in the appendix, two photos taken in a Wesley Ministry on an American campus, showcasing the expansive connotations of human rights).

This panel proposes to address human right issues related to immigrants and migrants in East Asia, a region broadly defined to subsume both Northeast and Southeast Asia. East Asia was often regarded as highly conservative in socioeconomic terms, given its deeply entrenched patrilineal, agrarian-stationary, and kinship traditions. Many aspects of human rights were restrained and/or neglected, not taken up in social discourse or policy debates. East Asia, however, is also a region that has displayed more economic and political vitality than many other regions on earth. Economic modernization, globalization, social change, and democratic transformation for many polities, have ‘unleashed’ nearly all human right issues, old and new, to public space. This panel proposes to focus on human right issues related to immigrants and migrants. This focus is long overdue. For centuries, East Asia has been at the supplying end of immigrants and migrants, people in this region exiting native lands for a variety of reasons and on a continual basis, flowing to Europe, America and even the Middle East and East Africa for economic opportunities. As the most vibrant and successful economic regions in the developing world, many East Asian nations have reached high income level of development and have become the receiving end of migration as well.

This panel presents four papers to capture select human right issues related to immigrants and migrants, as follows.

The first paper addresses immigrants, migrants and democratic politics in Taiwan. Most immigrants in Taiwan came through international/cross-strait marriages, most migrants came as health care workers, some as construction workers, and fewer as high tech professionals. Immigrants are by definition newcomers for long term residency and citizenship. Sojourners by definition, migrants are also residents, and their residency can be renewed and indeed turned permanent. Immigrants and migrants are not mutually isolated communities. Both groups may be perceived or self-perceived as outsiders vis-à-vis members of local community especially when it comes to identity, interests, and rights. In addition, on individual and small group levels, immigrants and migrants may well be socially interconnected. This paper sheds light on social interaction between the two communities, and their sociopolitical readings of Taiwan’s democracy and democratic processes.

The second paper examines immigrants and migrants in Taiwan from a legal perspective. How have immigrants’ rights and migrants’ rights evolved in democratic Taiwan? This paper interfaces public discourse, legislative debates and adjudication on immigrants and migrants’ rights in Taiwan, a fairly consolidated liberal democracy in East Asia. Survey data, policy changes, and legislation show that Taiwan has been a pace-setter for the expansion and elevation of human rights protection. Public intellectuals, social movement activists and political parties have been most visible in promoting human rights. The judicial area and legal community have played an equally crucial, if more low key, role in it.

The third paper surveys and explains the variation of the immigrants and migrants’ rights in East Asia. Both the United Nations and regional international organizations (for example, the human rights commission of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations) have been cataloguing and assessing the human rights conditions for years. Many conditions have improved, but many challenges remain. Indeed Myanmar’s Rohingya migration crisis suggests that human rights problems may remain submerged, like shoals that are not visible unless sea level recedes. Immigrants and migrants’ rights are typically not in the fore front of public and academic discussions on human rights. This paper fills this gap.

The fourth paper dwells on salient features of immigrants/migrants rights and democratic politics in the west (the US and/or Europe). One puzzle is variation in political activism across different immigrant/migrant groups. Asian Americans have become much more engaged in both social movement and political participation at all levels in the US. But it seems the way they exercise and enhance their social and political rights differ quite significantly from other minorities such as African Americans and the Hispanics. Another puzzle pertains to the evolution and issue dynamics in western democracies facing massive inflow of migrants. In some cases, pre-existing partisanship and political polarization has deepened, in some other cases, established parties have been marginalized. Many other puzzles are also worthwhile solving, including electoral fates of populist, xenophobic parties, and differential treatments of migrants in various democratic societies.


Wesley Foundation Inclusiveness
Photo taken by TJ Cheng at Wesley Foundation: United Methodist Campus Ministry, Williamsburg, Virginia June 10, 2019