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US: Trump’s Immigration Actions to Harm Millions

Will Return Refugees to Persecution, Devastate Families, Threaten Public Safety

(Washington, DC) – The two executive actions, on immigration and border policy, that United States President Donald Trump signed on January 25, 2017, will severely harm millions of immigrants and US citizens, Human Rights Watch said today.

A young boy holds US flags as immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington on November 20, 2015.  © 2015 Reuters

The orders define immigration enforcement priorities so broadly that they will apply to millions of unauthorized immigrants, including those with no criminal records. The orders seek to penalize so-called “sanctuary cities” and states, expand abusive fast-track deportation procedures, and increase the prolonged detention of immigrants. The orders will also enact harsh border policies likely to block asylum seekers from entry, potentially returning them to harm in violation of international refugee law that has been binding on the United States since the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

“With one broad sweeping action, President Trump could be sending millions of people with the most minor – or no – criminal records off to serious danger, and devastate US citizen families,” said Alison Parker, co-director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “This order sets the stage for over-inclusive dragnet enforcement that will harm people with longstanding ties to the United States and terrorize communities.”

Trump’s decision to prioritize for removal anyone who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” raises significant rights concerns.

As discussed in more detail in a recent Human Rights Watch briefing, Trump’s policy risks sweeping up hundreds of thousands of people, including lawful residents, those who have not been convicted of a crime, or whose most serious offense was an immigration violation. In practice, this will direct immigration authorities to prioritize the deportation of anyone who entered the country illegally – including more than half of the 11 million unauthorized people in the country.

Trump’s order also seeks to drastically expand the use of the sprawling and abusive US immigration detention system, directing federal agencies to rapidly increase detention capacity and detain nearly all non-citizens pending the outcome of their deportation proceedings. Human Rights Watch has documented how the overuse of immigration detention exposes people to dangerous custody conditions, and negatively affects their right to a fair deportation hearing.
Immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration in Washington, November 20, 2015.  © 2015 Reuters

In another executive order, Trump announced border enforcement policies that would threaten the rights of people seeking asylum. These policies expand the use of a fast-track deportation procedure known as expedited removal and promote the criminal prosecutions of people entering the US illegally. Expedited removal and illegal entry prosecutions have already been shown to have a pernicious impact on the rights of asylum-seekers and long-term residents of the US, many of whom have families who are US citizens, as well as on individuals, including children, fleeing persecution and violence who seek protection under longstanding US and international law.

Trump’s order also directs the government to use its authority to return to Mexico people entering from there without visas. Placing asylum seekers outside the United States could compromise their ability to have their claims for protection fully and fairly considered.

Trump also announced that his administration would pursue agreements with local police forces that would deputize them to enforce immigration law. His policy would seek to withhold federal funds from cities and states designated by the administration as having “sanctuary” policies intended to limit local law enforcement involvement with federal immigration enforcement.

Trump’s claims that such actions would make communities safer conflate immigration with crime, which is both false and dangerous, Human Rights Watch said. Numerous studies have debunked the myth that increased immigration leads to increased crime.

Human Rights Watch research shows that in some communities, the involvement of local police in immigration enforcement has caused immigrant victims of crime, including violent crime such as rape, to fear reporting those crimes to police. Many local law enforcement agencies have supported the policies Trump criticizes to encourage community members – regardless of immigration status – to report crime, believing it is the best way to protect everyone’s safety. Policies and political rhetoric that conflate immigration with crime also risk fueling xenophobic violence and other crimes.

“President Trump claims these actions are needed to put Americans first, but instead, they will harm US citizens’ interests in keeping families together and maintaining public safety,” Parker said. “Congress and the courts, as well as the public, should check these actions and stand up for the rights of all.”

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