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Law360, July 30, 2015- "More than 170 civil rights, human rights and faith-based groups urged the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday to stop criminally prosecuting immigrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, saying the prosecutions almost exclusively target Latinos and are “profoundly immoral.”
In a letter published on Human Rights Watch’s website and signed by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and others, the groups told U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that criminally prosecuting asylum seekers who have fled their countries seeking safety and migrants who want to reunite with their families is the wrong response at the southern border.
The groups pointed to a May 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General on Streamline — an initiative to criminally prosecute individuals who enter the U.S. without authorization along the southwest border — saying it could not show that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol referrals of apprehended migrants for federal prosecution actually deter unauthorized migration, which is the “precise policy goal of CBP.”
Moreover, the groups said that the proceedings are “fraught with due process problems” and that CBP’s referral of asylum seekers for criminal prosecution via Streamline violates U.S. obligations under the Refugee Convention.
“DOJ should not be in the business of immigration enforcement, particularly when the strategies are unproven and highly problematic in their implementation,” the groups said.
They noted that illegal entry and re-entry are now the most prosecuted federal crimes in the U.S., and the increase in illegal re-entry convictions over the past 20 years accounts for 48 percent of the growth in total convictions in federal courts over those two decades, citing data from the Pew Research Center.
And although the DOJ doles out hundreds of millions of dollars annually on U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Prisons beds used for for noncitizens prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry, the prosecutions fail to further the DOJ’s defined prosecutorial priorities, such as national security, violent crime, financial fraud, and cases that protect the nation’s most vulnerable communities, the groups said.
Furthermore, they added, the prosecutions nearly exclusively target Latinos and lead directly to the disproportionate representation of Latinos in the federal prison system.
“Most importantly, criminalizing migration is profoundly immoral,” the groups said. “The causes of migration are complex and varied, and migration per se poses no threat to public safety. Our nation can find far more humane and compassionate ways to respond to people crossing our southern border.
They urged the DOJ to end prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry at the southern border and, in the event the federal agency fails to completely discontinue it, asked it to issue guidance directing U.S. Attorneys to significantly reduce their use of prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry and to always decline referrals for prosecution of asylum seekers.
Other signatories to the letter include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Farmworker Justice, the Justice Policy Institute, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the International Rescue Committee, and others."