American Bar Association

ABA president says harsh treatment of noncriminal immigrants undermines American values

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Hilarie Bass

ABA President Hilarie Bass. File photo by by the Canadian Press Images/Michael Desjardins.

ABA President Hilarie Bass has issued a statement on behalf of the ABA condemning federal immigration officers’ harsh treatment of immigrants who entered the United States without authorization.

“While the country needs to protect its borders, enforce laws and ensure the safety of citizens, such callous treatment of individuals, whose only transgressions are immigration violations, undermines the nation’s values,” the statement says. “Taking people off the street, refusing them the opportunity to say goodbye or inform their families about why they have disappeared are not the actions of a democratic society and do not represent the values of most Americans.”

The statement cites several high-profile cases in which immigrants who don’t have legal status, but who have otherwise not broken any laws, have been treated punitively by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection, the two agencies that handle immigration law enforcement. One of those is the case of Jorge Garcia, who came to the United States at age 10 and was deported to Mexico a month ago at 39 despite having no criminal record.

In another case, a Jamaican national in her 60s was taken off a Greyhound bus in Florida for overstaying a tourist visa and deported without notice to her family. And Carlos Gudiel Andres was arrested in the parking lot of his apartment building without being permitted to say goodbye to his wife and five children.

“The rule of law does not require the Department of Homeland Security to track down and deport all individuals who violate immigration laws,” the statement says. “Seasoned prosecutors know that prosecutorial discretion is an essential part of any humane justice system.”

The statement notes that the ABA supports legislation dealing with the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants without legal status “realistically and humanely,” including granting legal status to people with no criminal record. Until Congress passes “sensible, fair and humane legislation” to deal with undocumented people, the statement says, the executive branch should make its enforcement decisions based on public safety.

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