February 24, 2017 — New York, New York
AJC expressed deep concern over the new and sweeping immigration enforcement policies announced this week by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
As reports from Mexico City of the ongoing meetings of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly with Mexican officials make clear, these policies not only raise questions about the most effective and humane means to address an American domestic concern, but also create regrettable tensions in U.S. relations with our southern neighbor and close ally.
The memoranda issued by DHS indicate that immigration enforcement procedures will henceforth operate on the basis of a greatly expanded definition of “criminal aliens,” enlarge the role of local law enforcement authorities as immigration law enforcers, strip away immigrants' privacy rights, build new detention facilities, hire 15,000 additional immigration enforcement officials, implement steps to discourage asylum seekers, and speed up deportations-including through an expanded regime of “expedited removal” that denies basic due process of law. In doing so, DHS is overturning enforcement practices established by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, practices that recognized the need to balance border security and immigration enforcement with humanitarian concerns.
To be sure, the memoranda leave in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program instituted by President Obama, a welcome development, even as they create a new policy of deporting, and possibly prosecuting, parents who facilitate the travel of their children to the United States illegally. AJC notes it is also the case that President Obama deported some 2.8 million people during his eight years of office, and there were, as well, criticisms of Obama-era practices, not only as to numbers but also as to practices such as immigrant family detention. Nevertheless, the policies announced by DHS represent a change in kind and, if implemented, in substantial scope as compared to the enforcement measures implemented under President Obama, which, whatever their flaws, were focused on those who were either convicted of multiple offenses or had repeatedly entered the country illegally.
It remains no less the case today than it has been for many years that there is an urgent moral and practical need to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows-as opposed to adopting policies that will only drive millions deeper into those shadows. If, as AJC said in prior years, the continuation of the status quo was an unsustainable policy, and did not comport with American values to respect and defend human dignity, that is even more the case with respect to the harsh measures announced by DHS.
The United States is a nation of laws, and should not condone the violation of law, including by individuals who did not enter our country through legal processes. At the same time, a nation of laws committed to universal human rights cannot turn its face from the human cost of splitting families and destroying lives that have been built by those undocumented immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding. AJC calls once again, as we have so many times in the past, for our leaders in Washington, ideally working in bipartisan fashion, to move instead toward the comprehensive-and humane-immigration reform that is so urgently needed.