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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks on the U.S. system for asylum-seekers at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in Falls Church, Virginia, U.S. October 12, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

(Washington, October 13, 2017) – The Trump administration’s proposals to fix the United States immigration system would make the broken system even worse, severely damaging the US capacity to offer refuge to people who desperately need protection, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch issued a question-and-answer analysis of the “Immigration Principles and Priorities” the White House released on October 9, 2017.

The administration’s proposals would exacerbate existing failures to protect basic human rights within the US immigration system by decreasing protection for child migrants and refugees and by significantly increasing funding for immigration agents and immigration detention, which already receive lavish levels of funding with few meaningful measures to limit serious abuses. The Human Rights Watch analysis of the administration’s immigration proposals is based on decades of research into the US immigration system.

“Attorney General Sessions’ statements are demonstrably wrong and risk stoking hatred and fear against desperate people fleeing deadly danger,” said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The Trump administration claims it needs to eliminate “loopholes” in the asylum system and to expand detention of asylum-seekers. But the fact is that border agents regularly violate US and international law by turning away people who have genuine and legitimate claims that they will be persecuted or killed if forced back to their home countries.

Existing procedures for fast-track deportations, called “expedited removal,” have returned people who deserve protection to harm. Even after they reach the US, asylum seekers face an incredible array of barriers, including severe backlogs in the courts, lack of legal representation, prolonged detention in many cases, and widely inconsistent rates of granting asylum across the country.

The White House’s claims about threats to public safety disregard the fact that existing law regarding immigrants with criminal convictions of any kind is incredibly harsh and overly broad, Human Rights Watch said. The reality is that the existing system routinely bars people with immediate US citizen family from gaining legal status or from returning to US family for offenses that are minor, old, or even have been expunged.

Immigration courts certainly need more resources to ensure fair and unbiased resolution of immigration cases. But the White House proposal to increase the number of immigration agents and detention capacity would exacerbate ongoing abuses, including dangerously substandard detention conditions and would only increase rampant deportation of people without consideration of their family and other ties to the US.

“The ‘fixes’ proposed by the administration would only aggravate serious deficiencies in US asylum procedures and increase the cruelty of a system that already returns asylum applicants to harm and disregards the right to family unity,” Long said. “The administration’s immigration proposals should be soundly rejected.”


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