Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Executive Orders on Immigration and Refugees in the United States

February 1, 2017

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep concern regarding the executive orders on “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” and “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” both announced by the government of the United States on January 25, 2017, as well as the executive order on "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States," signed on January 27, 2017. The implementation of these orders deepens the severe humanitarian crisis that affects all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and the IACHR urges the United States to rescind them.

The Commission is deeply concerned that the executive orders require, among other things, the immediate construction of a physical border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the strengthening of immigration control measures through an increase in the number of agents with immigration functions, the closure of the border to asylum seekers, the expansion of a system of mass incarceration through the creation of more immigration detention centers along the border, the emphasis on expedited removals, the cancellation of federal funds to so-called “sanctuary” cities, the suspension of the refugee resettlement program, the indefinite ban on the entry of Syrian refugees, and the temporary ban on the entry to the United States of nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries, even when they hold green cards or valid visas. These executive orders, the construction of more immigration detention centers, and the emphasis on expedited removals represent a policy designed to stigmatize and criminalize migrants or anyone perceived as a migrant.

The IACHR also observes that there are already some 700 miles of fencing along the nearly 1,900-mile border between the United States and Mexico. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that at least 436 migrants died along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2016. The construction of additional parts of a border wall and the increased militarization of the border will place the lives of migrants and refugees at greater risk. History shows that the migrants will be forced to find more dangerous routes to enter the United States. The lack of legal avenues to migrate will also push people to resort to migrant smugglers, placing their lives and physical integrity at grave risk.

The measures envisaged in these executive orders reflect a high degree of discrimination of migrant communities and minority groups, particularly Latinos and Muslims or those perceived as such. The implementation of these executive orders puts migrants and refugees at grave risk of violation of their rights to non-discrimination, personal liberty, due process, judicial protection, special protection for families and children, the right to seek and receive asylum, the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to freedom of movement, among others. In particular, the IACHR is concerned over the serious risk that these orders pose to unaccompanied children, families and women who may be returned to the countries from which they fled, where their life and integrity were under threat.

Human rights norms and standards prohibit discrimination based on national origin or religion. The State has an obligation to identify those among migrants who need special safeguards—such as asylum seekers and refugees, and victims of human trafficking, among others—and to adopt measures to protect them. States should also adopt measures to guarantee the rights to due process and to judicial protection in the context of immigration proceedings and proceedings to determine refugee status, the right to family unity, the right to seek and receive asylum, the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition on rejection at the border, and the prohibition on the collective expulsion of aliens.

The Commission reminds the United States that immigration detention should be an exceptional measure used as a last resort and always for the shortest amount of time possible, only after an individual evaluation of each case has been made and alternative measures considered. Moreover, the State may not resort to the immigration detention of children and their parents as a measure to deter irregular migration.

Pursuant to its international human rights obligations, the United States must implement all measures that may be necessary to protect the lives, integrity, and safety of all migrants under its jurisdiction. Immigration proceedings, particularly those that could lead to migrants’ deportation, must examine, justify, and decide cases on an individual basis and respect minimum guarantees. These include the right to be heard by a competent authority in a deportation proceeding and to have sufficient opportunity to exercise the right to mount a defense; the right to have interpretation and translation assistance, legal representation, and consular protection; the right to receive notice of a deportation order and to access an effective remedy to challenge a deportation order; the right to challenge a deportation decision; and the right to have a deportation order suspended while an appeal is pending. 

The Commission urges the United States to rescind the three executive orders and to ensure that any official measure related to immigration and asylum is in line with its international human rights obligations and international refugee law. The IACHR affirms its interest in working with the government of the United States in the quest for solutions that ensure full observance of the human rights of migrants and refugees.

A principal, autonomous body of the OAS, the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 008/17