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As Congress Moves to Dismantle Immigration Reform, We Will Continue Our Fight to Defend Migrant Rights

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Co-written by Rebecca Katz, Program Assistant, Women's Refugee Commission

On March 13, President Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would conduct a review of enforcement procedures to investigate how deportations can be carried out more humanely.

This announcement followed a particularly unproductive week in Congress during which the House of Representatives not only failed to move forward with productive immigration reform, but rather focused on undoing any existing efforts to address the obvious shortfalls in our immigration system.

The Women's Refugee Commission is highly disappointed in the actions of some members of Congress who are actively trying to dismantle positive executive polices that help keep the children of immigrants in deportation proceedings out of foster care and with their families, measures that help hold Immigration and customs enforcement accountable to the public through their public engagement office, and policies that allow the president to exercise discretion with respect to the prosecution of young people brought to the United States as children.

What we really need is immigration reform that works for our country and includes the needs and concerns of women and children. And though reform is stalled in the House of Representatives, there is much the administration can do while waiting for Congress to act responsibly.

The Women's Refugee Commission is encouraged by President Obama's recent call to review enforcement procedures. We have long advocated for DHS to reform its immigration custody and deportation policies and have made numerous concrete and practical recommendations that would make enforcement more humane:

  • Take immediate action to follow through on immigration detention reform so that detention is limited, carefully targeted and humane and civil in nature.

  • Expand the use of alternatives to detention, so we can not only implement the rule of law more efficiently, for less money and more humanely, but also advance human rights and policies that are in line with American values.

  • Ensure that the most recent Prison Rape Elimination Act and Performance Based National Detention Standards are immediately implemented at all facilities used for detaining immigrants to reduce the threat of sexual assault and rape, and provide avenues of recourse for victims.

  • End programs such as detainers, Secure Communities and Operation Streamline that involve local law enforcement in immigration enforcement, including programs that clog our criminal justice system with cases involving only immigration matters, and discourage victims of violence from seeking protection from the police.

  • Provide trainings on prosecutorial discretion to ensure it is being exercised fully and effectively throughout the enforcement process, and that we are not wasting government resources.

  • Ensure that migrants seeking protection in the United States, particularly unaccompanied children, receive timely and proper screenings, due process and the protection to which they are entitled under international standards.

  • Address the myriad problems with Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) short-term hold detention facilities by improving the conditions for detainees, increasing transparency and improving their complaint system.

  • Take actions to improve the safety and well-being of immigrants being deported by keeping families together, repatriating them during the daytime and making sure individuals are not returned to particularly dangerous locations.

  • Create juvenile dockets for immigration courts hearing cases involving unaccompanied children and ensure no child appears before a judge unrepresented.
  • America desperately needs immigration reform, and that is something the Women's Refugee Commission will continue fighting for. We cannot sit idly by while Congress refuses to enact positive change. A number of administrative actions can be made to improve the lives of migrants in the United States today, and we are working hard to see that those take place.