Homeland Security Treats Refugees Like Criminals

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
I will clap them in irons, throw away the key,
Send them back where they came from and shut the door
Behind them.

No, that last bit isn’t in the famous poem by Emma Lazarus that graces the Statue of Liberty but it describes the way the Bush Administration and Michael Chertoff’s Homeland Security Dept have been handling “asylum seekers” – people who come here to escape persecution and possible murder for their political views or religion in their home countries, according to a report released yesterday by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which Congress asked to assess asylum regulations, found two years ago that some immigration officials were improperly processing asylum seekers for deportation. The commission, which also found that asylum seekers were often strip-searched, shackled and held in jails, called for safeguards in the system of speedy deportations known as expedited removal, to protect those fleeing persecution.

But the commission, which will issue its new findings on Thursday, says officials have failed to put into effect most of its 2005 recommendations. It says the failures come even as the Bush administration has significantly expanded efforts to detain and swiftly deport illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico without letting them make their case before an immigration judge.

“We are clearly concerned as to whether, in addition to prioritizing secure borders, the government is ensuring fair and humane treatment of legitimate asylum seekers,” said Felice D. Gaer, who is head of the commission, which was created by Congress in 1998. “We are really quite disappointed and dismayed by the lack of a response.”

HSD spokesman and Assistant HS Secretary Stewart Baker responded on behalf of Chertoff and the administration by saying the Commission’s recommendations “just weren’t practical given the enormous flood of illegal immigrants that we deal with every day”.

That’s the Bush Gang all over: in America we now suspend human rights whenever they’re inconvenient or “impractical”.

[T]he commission was sharply critical of the Department of Homeland Security, whose border agents and immigration officers interview asylum seekers at airports or land crossings.

Domestic security regulations require that immigration officials refer an illegal immigrant for what is known as a credible-fear interview if the immigrant indicates “an intention to apply for asylum, a fear of torture or a fear of return to his or her country.” The asylum seeker is then removed from the expedited removal process so an immigration judge can review the claim.

But the commission found no evidence that domestic security officials had taken steps to ensure that agents advised immigrants to ask for such protection or to ensure that agents did not deport immigrants who express fear of deportation.

The commission also found no indication that the Department of Homeland Security had taken steps to ensure that asylum seekers were not treated like criminals while their claims were being evaluated. Mr. [Baker] said that it would be too burdensome to create a separate detention program for asylum seekers and that such a system might create incentives for people to claim that they were fleeing persecution.

Stripped of its fine words and unworkable proposals, the Bush Administration’s immigration “policy” amounts to building walls at the borders and and treating refugees as if they were criminals. As Baker explained, the neocon-driven Bush Administration believes that all “refugees” and asylum-seekers are really just liars trying to get into the country to make money.

A CBC Radio news show called As It Happens reported last night that there is an effort in Canada to have the Canadian federal govt decertify the US as a signatory to the the International Treaty on Refugees because it routinely violates a section of the agreement known as the “safe third country” clause. That clause states that every signatory MUST accept immigrants claiming asylum if they can show before an immigration court that they face persecution at home. A representative of one of those organizations said the US was simply “skipping the court hearing” and going directly to jail and deportation. He called it “inhumane and a violation of the agreement”.

Canada, for chrissake. A long-term ally and supporter.

The Bush Administration doesn’t seem to be capable of coming up with a policy about anything that doesn’t embarrass us in the eyes of the rest of the world as it violates treaties, agreements, and civilized behavior. The Bill of Rights is “quaint”, the Geneva Convention is “antiquated”, and humane treatment of refugees is “impractical”.

How many states would have to pass impeachment resolutions before the Congress would have to address it?

One. Just one.


One Response

  1. […] and Refugees: Housing Resembles Jail Jump to Comments In response to the criticism of international human rights groups about the inhumane conditions in which refugees are kept, […]

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