A new report from the Miami-based Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center says new laws passed to combat terrorism in the United States are being used against migrants who apply for political asylum, or who come to the U.S. seeking work. Immigration officials deny the charges, but say illegal migrants in the U.S. will face the full force of the law.
Cheryl Little, Executive Director of the Center, and the author of the 144-page report, says the new anti-terror laws have prevented thousands of refugees and migrants from entering the United States to seek safe haven and new opportunities. "Since 9/11, many of the policies and directives that our government has implemented have targeted innocent immigrants that have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. We believe those polices are making us less safe because they are driving immigrants further underground," she said.
Ms. Little says federal law enforcement authorities are using the new laws to criminally prosecute asylum seekers for such things as possession of fraudulent documents and overstaying their visas, something she says rarely occurred prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She also says some migrants, such as those of Arab descent, are being racially profiled. She says if they are found to be in violation of any immigration statutes, they are often jailed for long periods of time before their cases can be heard.
As an example she cites the case of Samir Hussein, an Iraqi national who was detained by Border Patrol agents in 2003, when the bus he was traveling on to his immigration hearing in Los Angeles was stopped by immigration authorities. Mr. Hussein says he believes he was unfairly targeted. "They took me off the bus solely because of my nationality, because there were people there from all over. The minute I said I was Iraqi, they said get off the bus and take your luggage," he said.
Mr. Hussein says he was going to Los Angeles to try to clear up his case, because his lawyer had lost his immigration file, and without his knowledge, a deportation order had been issued against him.
Immigration officials have had no specific comment on the report, but have said many times in the past that asylum seekers and undocumented migrants are not racially profiled or singled out for harassment.
Nina Pruneda is a public affairs officer with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of the Department of Homeland Security. She says her agency known as ICE, has been given the task of securing the country's borders in a time of war and the agency is committed to carrying out its mission.
"The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is committed to restoring integrity to the nation's immigration system by enforcing immigration laws. ICE will continue to enforce the law to protect the United States from compromise and exploitation by identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities that pose a threat to our national security," he said.
Immigration officials say many of those detained for immigration violations like Samir Hussein have to be kept in detention until their cases are finally resolved, because too often those released simply disappear. Samir Hussein says his nearly two-year ordeal ended in February when he was granted asylum.