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(Washington, DC) – President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration protects millions of families in the US but leaves major rights concerns unaddressed, Human Rights Watch said today. Obama and the Congress should act to end harsh treatment at the border, unnecessary detention, and unfair criminal penalties that tear families apart.

“Last year’s presidential action still leaves millions of people subject to unfair and harsh immigration laws and practices that cry out for reform,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The arrival of a new Congress in Washington creates opportunities for policymakers to advance immigration reform that respects the rights of all.”

A new Human Rights Watch question and answer document explains the November Immigration Accountability Executive Actions (the Obama plan), including major rights issues left unaddressed. The Obama plan expands eligibility for “temporary legal status” for migrants who came as children as well as for the parents of US citizens and permanent residents. It also makes it easier for families harmed by bureaucratic backlogs to stay together. And it replaces the Secure Communities program, which involved federal immigration authorities in local law enforcement and which the Obama administration recognized undermines community trust in law enforcement.

Human Rights Watch updated and re-released a series of photographs by the well-known portrait photographer Platon that provide compelling images and stories of migrants likely to be helped by the Obama plan – and those whose suffering continues.

The Obama plan does not address summary deportation and mandatory detention provisions that penalize immigrants convicted of minor crimes. It does not provide protection against deportation or other relief to the parents of US citizen or legal permanent resident children if the parents are apprehended at the border while trying to reunite with their families. A Human Rights Watch report released today showed that about 50,000 parents of US citizen children are apprehended and summarily deported at the border each year. Although many might have qualified for deferred deportation were they still in the US, the Obama plan does not provide relief to those caught re-entering the country to rejoin their families.

Obama also had the opportunity to address the skyrocketing number of federal prosecutions for illegal entry and re-entry, but failed to do so. These are the most common prosecutions in the US, and sweep up thousands of people with deep ties in the country. Those convicted can become priorities for deportation because of their immigration status alone.

The plan still allows the detention of recently arrived families and summary deportation of arriving asylum seekers without sufficient assessment of whether their return poses serious risk of harm.

“The mass deportation policies of recent years have left hundreds of thousands of families forcibly separated,” Ginatta said. “The Obama administration and Congress have much more to do to uphold the rights of migrants and their families.”

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