February 14, 2018

Statement of Hilarie Bass, ABA president Re: Harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2018 — The American Bar Association objects to the increasing number of instances of harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants by federal immigration officers in the United States. While the country needs to protect its borders, enforce laws and ensure the safety of citizens, such callous treatment of individuals, whose only transgressions are immigration violations, undermines the nation’s values.

An estimated 11 million undocumented people live in the United States. The American Bar Association has long supported enactment of legislation recognizing that undocumented individuals now in the United States should be dealt with realistically and humanely, and those who are otherwise law-abiding should be accorded legal status.

Instead, in the past year the Department of Homeland Security has vastly expanded its immigration enforcement, increasing internal apprehensions by 42 percent. These otherwise law-abiding immigrants have lived and worked in the United States for years and are not dangerous criminals. Many individuals with existing removal orders had been allowed to remain in the country until now while reporting regularly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Several recent arrests and deportations raise legal and constitutional concerns: Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old husband and father of two from Detroit, was deported to Mexico on Martin Luther King Jr. Day after living in the U.S. 28 years and making numerous efforts to obtain legal status. Carlos Gudiel Andres, husband and father of five, was arrested by ICE agents last month in the parking lot of his Houston apartment complex and was not allowed to say goodbye to his family. His only offense was entering the country illegally in 2006. And a Jamaican grandmother in her 60s, known only as Grandma Beverly, was pulled off a Greyhound bus in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 19 and arrested for overstaying a visitor’s visa after seeing her granddaughter for the first time. The Border Patrol did not even notify her family.

Taking people off the street, refusing them the opportunity to say goodbye or inform their families about why they have disappeared are not the actions of a democratic society and do not represent the values of most Americans.

The rule of law does not require the Department of Homeland Security to track down and deport all individuals who violate immigration laws. Seasoned prosecutors know that prosecutorial discretion is an essential part of any humane justice system. These enforcement actions also raise questions of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches, the constitutional guarantees of freedom from discrimination and questions of due process.

Congress needs to enact sensible, fair and humane legislation to deal with undocumented individuals. Until then, the executive branch needs to exercise restraint and a common-sense approach centered on true public safety when it comes to arrest and deportation.

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