USA: Amnesty International USA Voices Serious Concerns about Federal Immigration Proposal Priorities

Press Release
April 30, 2010

USA: Amnesty International USA Voices Serious Concerns about Federal Immigration Proposal Priorities

Amnesty International USA Media Release
Friday, April 30, 2010

Amnesty International USA Voices Serious Concerns about Federal Immigration Proposal Priorities

Contact: AIUSA media office, 202-509-8194

(Washington, DC) Amnesty International USA voiced serious concerns today regarding priorities for a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill proposed by U.S. Senators Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). A draft version of the bill summary touts increased border patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel and penalties for immigration status-related crimes. However, it pays little attention to long-needed reform of ICE's unnecessary home-invasion style enforcement operations, targeting and often terrorizing undocumented persons.

"The senators' get- tough language fails to recognize that an end to the ongoing human rights violations in immigration enforcement practices and a vigorous defense of human rights is an essential component of true immigration 'reform’", said Lory D. Rosenberg, interim policy and advocacy director for Amnesty International USA's refugee and migrants' rights program.

"Immigration reform is desperately needed in the United States," said Rosenberg. “Reform measures cannot however flout fundamental human rights such as liberty and equality before the law. The increased enforcement provisions portend for a virtual tsunami in mandatory detentions, which lock people up without the right to a bond hearing, in direct violation of fundamental human rights."

The bill summary emphasizes aggressive identification and expulsion of broad categories of immigrants and refugees, including those found in federal, state or local prisons, those who enter or reenter unlawfully, and those believed to have 'gang' connections. Absent from these provisions is any consideration of a person’s individual circumstances, including the amount of time living in the U.S., presence of family members, community ties and employment history.

Without necessary safeguards and individual, case-by-case determinations, broad gang provisions that may require only an association may be used to deport immigrants and asylum seekers who often are marginalized from the workforce and forced to live in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.

Additional measures to combat unlawful immigration include increased punishment and prison sentences for fraud, misrepresentation, and other violations of immigration law, again regardless of circumstances, which could result in the imprisonment of asylum seekers who use fake passports to flee persecution.

The broad sweep of prisons contemplated by the bill summary will indiscriminately pull in both those held for minor traffic violations and serious violent criminals. What is more, despite an extremely unfavorable report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) imposing more than 30 corrective recommendations on the 287(g) program that have not been made, the bill summary perpetuates the inappropriately designed state-federal enforcement programs, such as 287(g), which has received constant criticism for its disregard of obligatory human rights protections as well as its flagrant civil rights and liberties abuses.

"These escalated enforcement measures would be implemented in the present climate of inefficient and often out-of-control ICE arrest and detention operations, vastly increasing the number of immigrants and asylum seekers subject to mandatory detention and denied meaningful access to family, community or counsel to represent their rights in the courts," said Rosenberg.

Amnesty International USA calls on Congress to craft a fair and humane immigration policy that:

  • Provides a formal process through which undocumented people can obtain legal status. A legalization scheme can make a significant contribution towards protecting immigrants’ rights, particularly in reducing labor exploitation and promoting social cohesion.
  • Reforms immigration policies that unnecessarily separate families. Immigration judges should have the authority to review all decisions to detain immigrants and the discretion to stop deportation in the interest of family unity. To ensure fairness, these decisions should be subject to federal court review.
  • Fully guarantees immigrant workers’ labor rights, including the right to join unions.
  • Focuses on protecting the rights of immigrants most at risk of human rights violations, including undocumented immigrants, immigrant women and immigrant children.
  • Restores immigration enforcement responsibilities exclusively to federal authorities and terminates unconstitutional state and local law enforcement programs and state laws purporting to enforce immigration standards.
  • Places immigrants and their communities at the center of the debate on immigration by recognizing and ensuring their role in formulating and implementing strategies to protect their rights.

Neither the U.S. Constitution nor international law permits the arbitrary penalization of entire communities,” said Rosenberg. “Appropriate safeguards against unwarranted, arbitrary detention and expedited deportation are critical if the reform legislation is to achieve its goal of bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can be properly screened and registered by the authorities and welcomed into U.S. society.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.