First Meeting of Ministers and National Authorities of the Americas on the Right to Identity

Michelle McConnell
Health Attache U.S. Embassy Mexico 
Mexico City, Mexico
September 29, 2016

Date: 09/29/2016 Description: Dr. Michelle McConnell (left), Health Attach�� at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and Catherine Molchan Donald (right), Alabama State Registrar and Director of Alabama's Center for Health Statistics, participate in the First Meeting of Ministers and National Authorities of the Americas on the Right to Identity in Mexico City. - State Dept Image

Let me begin by thanking Minister Osorio Chong and Assistant Secretary General Mendez for organizing and hosting this week’s series of events, which culminate in today’s First Meeting of Ministers and National Authorities in the Americas on the Right to Identity.

I am Dr. Michelle McConnell, the Health Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and am pleased to convey, on behalf of Ambassador Jacobson and U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, my government’s sincere appreciation for the opportunity to participate in today’s meeting.

I want to also acknowledge Mexico’s leadership in hosting this ministerial. The United States appreciates your ongoing interest in, and commitment to, issues regarding regional migration challenges and statelessness.

Mr. Chairman, this week’s events are quite timely - at the UN General Assembly just last week the Presidents of the United States and Mexico, and other world leaders, came together to discuss and seek solutions for the worldwide refugee and migration crisis. As a co-host of the event, President Peña Nieto stood alongside President Obama to bring focus to these most pressing issues.

These events are directly related to the objectives of this week, as civil registration is the foundation to one’s identity -- the effective starting point for migration, and a key way in which refugees and displaced persons can gain access to protection and assistance from the international community.

As President Obama has said, supporting development is – and I quote - “one of the smartest investments we can make in our own future. After all, it is a lack of development -- when people have no education, and no jobs, and no hope, a feeling that their basic human dignity is being violated -- that helps fuel so much of the tensions and conflict and instability in our world.”

Mr. Chairman, in order to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs), governments, private sector enterprises, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and citizens, all have an essential role to play.

In the Americas, President Obama has reinforced the United States’ collaborative partnership with our neighbors to promote sustainable and inclusive growth and create safe, prosperous communities for all people of our region.

Unfortunately, in many parts of the hemisphere unemployment; informal work relationships that unfairly target migrants, minors, and vulnerable persons; economic exclusion; and discrimination remain all too common -- particularly for members of historically marginalized groups. Human traffickers profit from the exploitation of these vulnerable men, children, and women to the extent of 150 billion dollars each year. This is not only a crime, but a human rights and public health issue.

In some countries, upwards of 60 percent of the workforce is in the informal sector, lacking the most basic social protections. To sustain our region’s growth and prosperity, we must ensure that the benefits of integration and growth reach all. Civil registration is an important element of these efforts.

With this in mind, the United States is working to promote sustainable and inclusive development through a number of innovative initiatives, including through the OAS’ Universal Civil Identity Project of the Americas (PUICA).

We are proud to have supported PUICA’s efforts in Peru, where the OAS helped to reconstruct civil registration records following that country’s conflict with the Shining Path, and in the Eastern Caribbean, where the OAS helped consolidate civil registry electronic databases by digitizing historical records.

The United States also joined in the OAS General Assembly’s adoption of the Inter-American Program for Sustainable Development, based on the 2030 Agenda. This program represents an important step forward in helping our region jumpstart implementation of the SDGs – including goal 16.

And lastly, I am pleased to share that, just last week, the U.S. National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) finalized an agreement with the Mexican national population registry, RENAPO, to allow for faster and easier registration as Mexican citizens for hundreds of thousands of U.S-born children.

Taken together, such efforts reflect what many of you already know well – that birth and death registries, in addition to national ID systems, are critical for establishing accurate and timely counts of individuals. Such information serves as the basis for ensuring essential and basic health, education and employment benefits.

Delayed birth registration limits access to health and education, and delayed or absent death registries can result in the potentially unnecessary extension of social security and/or employment benefits, with attendant financial costs.

From the experience of the United States, efficient civil registration and vital statistics systems must be multi-sectoral and across the whole of government. In addition, timely birth registration in hospitals is a fundamental input for civil registration systems, and it forms the basis for accurate population estimates. This is especially relevant for monitoring progress towards the 2030 SDGs, and for other health indicators and services.

Birth registration is also essential to protecting displaced and refugee children and preventing statelessness. For refugee and migrant children, birth registration can be essential to reuniting separated families. Documentation of a child’s parents and place of birth is important to securing a child’s right to a nationality, and providing proof of age can help prevent child labor, child marriage, and other abuses.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me talk a bit about Central America in particular and the continued challenges from irregular migration out of the Northern Triangle. The United States and Mexico have increased our engagement with Central American governments to create conditions for their citizens to have a better future at home.

To confront the violence and poverty many sought to escape, President Obama announced in early 2015 the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America. This strategy represents a comprehensive and robust partnership with Central American governments designed to reverse endemic violence and poverty; strengthen citizen security, good governance and the rule of law; and promote economic prosperity and inclusive development.

Mr. Chairman, we appreciate the opportunity to hear how other OAS member states are responding to birth registration, migration and statelessness challenges -- and how the United States can work together, in a spirit of genuine and equal partnership, to help ensure that the human rights of all individuals throughout our hemisphere are respected.

To close, I would like to convey my government’s appreciation for the work you do every day, and for the hard work that lies ahead as we work collectively to realize the SDGs by 2030. Thank you very much.