WASHINGTON (August 11, 2004) -– Expansion of a federal program which returns some recent undocumented immigrants to their countries of origin without a hearing fails to "protect the basic rights of victims of persecution" and creates a conflict of interest for Border Patrol agents, the Chairman of the bishops' Migration Committee said in a statement released today.
Coadjutor Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando said he was troubled by yesterday's announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that so-called "expedited removal" would be expanded to points along the U.S border other than points of entry.
Expedited removal, enacted as part of immigration reforms in 1996, allows law enforcement officials to remove summarily would-be asylum-seekers, who arrive in the United States, without the opportunity of presenting their claim for asylum to an immigration judge.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has consistently opposed expedited removal as a violation of human rights and the norms of international law.
Bishop Wenski's statement follows:
"On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, I am troubled by today's announcement by Department of Homeland Security Border and Transportation Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson regarding the expansion of the use of expedited removal into the interior of the United States and along the United States border. The U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently opposed the use of expedited removal as a violation of the basic human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers and the norms of international law.
"The expansion of the use of expedited removal, in our view, could lead to the return of more bona fide asylum-seekers to their persecutors, resulting in further harm to them and possibly their death. While the new policy acknowledges the possibility of referring refugees or those fleeing persecution to an immigration judge, we fear that Border Patrol agents, who are trained to apprehend and detain undocumented migrants, are not experts in asylum law and are not prepared to make life and death decisions in this area.
"In our view, the Administration's new policy will not protect the basic rights of victims of persecution. Many such victims are fearful and traumatized when they enter the United States and are unable to articulate their fear of persecution upon apprehension. Others are unaware that they have a right to ask for asylum. We are concerned that under this new policy, an entrant who might have a valid claim of asylum will not have the opportunity to express their fear and could feel intimidated by the presence of Border Patrol agents. Victims of traffickers and smugglers, as well, who often are traumatized, may be hesitant to express their fear and could be returned to their captors under this new policy.
"The new policy represents a conflict of interest for Border Patrol agents. They should not be given the task of an adjudicator, who is trained to ascertain whether an entrant should receive the protection of U.S. asylum law. The training of a law enforcement official and an enforcement agency is to enforce the law, not interpret it.
"The new policy leaves many unanswered questions. It is unclear, for example, whether the type of training Border Patrol agents receive will be sufficient to ensure accuracy in their determinations; whether the procedures they will be asked to follow will ensure some measure of due process; whether safeguards will be implemented to govern the process; and whether interpreters and counsel would be made available to apprehended entrants.
"We ask the Administration to reconsider this new policy. The use and expansion of expedited removal within the United States further erodes the cherished tradition of our nation as a place of safe haven for the world's persecuted and undermines our nation's moral credibility throughout the world."