Last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security began its review of about 300,000 deportation cases, as well its implementation of a new training program for government officials and lawyers. The review is meant to "allow severely overburdened immigration judges to focus on deporting foreigners who committed serious crimes or pose national security risks," according to the New York Times.
Many minority communities in the U.S. view this measure as a move towards finally fulfilling President Obama’s campaign promises regarding immigration, while critics, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, argue that the Morton Memos – the policy memos that put the review into action – "constitute nothing less than the granting of administrative amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens currently in the United States."
Whether or not the prioritization of the deportation of violent criminals is providing amnesty is not the most important part of this issue. Today’s change in DHS policy is a step towards remedying the severe violation of human rights that this department has been perpetrating on both illegal and legal U.S. residents.
Perhaps the most egregious violation of international human rights law by law enforcement officials has been in connection with DHS’s Secure Communities program. It is not the legislation of the program itself that constitutes a violation of human rights, but the manner in which it is carried out. Literature put out by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency explains that it uses "early identification" to identify "criminal aliens within the United States."
The early identification mentioned here seems innately linked to the use of racial profiling, a practice that is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), among many others. Even though the U.S. is a signatory of the UDHR, Secure Communities has been linked to many cases of racial profiling. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, this program "invites local law enforcement agencies to arrest 'foreign-looking' individuals for minor infractions or for no reason at all, purely in order to transmit their fingerprints and trigger their possible deportation." Thus, Secure Communities causes law enforcement agents to not only target illegal immigrants, but also legal U.S. residents and citizens who "look foreign."
As a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. government should have long ago been worried about the possibility of racial profiling of its citizens, as well as aliens it is obligated to treat fairly according to human rights law that the government itself has signed.
The new training program and prioritization of deportation cases will not grant amnesty to illegal immigrants; instead, it will only allow government officials to expedite cases of violent individuals. But the new measure will alter the review of cases of lesser criminals and train law enforcement officials on the correct way to enforce DHS policy. The I.S. Law Firm argues that the new policy "provides clear guidance for ICE personnel on dismissing removal proceedings against some immigrants and releasing certain detainees."
Precise instructions will not eliminate the illegal and immoral use of racial profiling entirely, but it is a step in the right direction. Such guidelines should greatly diminish the use of pretext-based traffic stops and false arrests that are related to racial profiling, because such minor crimes will be reviewed and other real crimes will take precedence. Still, it will not be until the U.S. government figures out a more comprehensive and fair immigration system that both the human rights of illegal immigrants and "foreign-looking" Americans will be entirely safeguarded.
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