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May 04, 2018

Administration Will Prosecute Parents For Illegal Entry, Separating Refugee Families

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemned a recent announcement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declaring that it will no longer exempt classes or groups of individuals—including those seeking protection and parents with children—from prosecution for illegal entry into the United States.

“This administration has hit a new low in contempt for refugees and migrants. To separate parents from their children—including those who have fled unspeakable violence and  persecution—is cruel and barbaric. And for what? Border apprehensions are already lower than they’ve been in decades. Make no mistake, the Trump Administration is directing border officers and federal prosecutors to punish families who seek refugee protection in the United States.  This is not who we are as a country,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer, who observed criminal prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry in Texas and New Mexico this week.

Earlier this year, Human Rights First issued a report detailing alarming increases in criminal prosecutions of asylum seekers and migrants at the southern border under the Trump Administration. The administration’s tactics include referring asylum seekers for prosecution even after they've clearly stated a fear of return, separating families in order to begin criminal proceedings against parents, and pushing plea agreements that force asylum seekers to forego their claims for protection. The report also documented due process deficiencies impacting migrants and asylum seekers subjected to these flawed prosecutions.  

Today’s announcement subverts U.S. treaty obligations that prohibit the penalization of refugees for unauthorized entry or presence—protections created in the wake of World War II after many nations treated refugees seeking asylum in their countries as “illegal” entrants. As a result, asylum seekers are subjected to a deeply dehumanizing system that punishes them for seeking protection and threatens to return them to countries where they will face persecution—violations of the Refugee Convention. 

"We have a civil immigration removal system for migration offenses, and we have asylum processes to deal with asylum claims. The administration must stop using the criminal justice system to punish asylum seekers and migrants,” added Acer.

For more information or to speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org, 202-370-3319.