Trump Administration Increasing Prosecution for First-Time Border Crossers in Arizona
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemns U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson Sector’s decision to increase referrals for criminal prosecution of individuals—including asylum seekers—who cross the U.S. southern border for the first time. Human Rights First notes that this practice increases the likelihood that individuals coming to the United States to seek asylum—a legal act—are penalized, detained in federal prisons, and in some cases deported without a chance to have their asylum claims heard in violation of U.S. legal and moral obligations.
“Seeking asylum is not a crime. This change in practice in Tucson reflects a deeply flawed approach by the Trump Administration. At a time when the majority of people arriving at the southern border are coming here to seek asylum, the government should be developing a response that comports with U.S. treaty obligations and ensures access to the asylum process,” said Human Rights First’s Olga Byrne. “By prosecuting asylum seekers for coming to the United States to seek protection the Trump Administration is essentially criminalizing legal conduct.”
On January 25, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make the criminal prosecution of immigration offenses a “high priority”—notwithstanding the fact that criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses already made up more than half of all federal prosecutions nationwide. These directives fail to mention U.S. treaty obligations that prohibit the penalization of refugees for illegal entry or presence—protections that were created in the wake of World War II, when many nations treated refugees who sought asylum in their countries or fled on invalid travel documents as “illegal” entrants.
Next week Human Rights First will release a new issue brief that documents the rise in criminal prosecutions under the Trump Administration.