New U.S. Immigration Policy Stirs Concerns

Could Hurt Genuine Asylum-Seekers, Warns Bishop

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 16, 2004 ( Expansion of a federal program that allows some illegal immigrants to be expelled without a hearing fails to «protect the basic rights of victims of persecution,» says a U.S. bishop.

The chairman of the U.S. episcopate’s Migration Committee, Bishop Thomas Wenski, said in a statement last week that he was troubled by the federal Department of Homeland Security’s announcement that «expedited removal» would be expanded to points along the U.S. border other than points of entry.

Expedited removal, enacted as part of immigration reforms in 1996, allows law enforcement officials to summarily remove would-be asylum-seekers, who arrive in the United States, without the opportunity of presenting their claim for asylum to an immigration judge.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has consistently opposed expedited removal as a violation of human rights and the norms of international law.

Bishop Wenski’s, coadjutor of the Orlando Diocese, said in his statement: «The expansion of the use of expedited removal, in our view, could lead to the return of more bona fide asylum-seekers to their persecutors, resulting in further harm to them and possibly their death.»

He added: «While the new policy acknowledges the possibility of referring refugees or those fleeing persecution to an immigration judge, we fear that Border Patrol agents, who are trained to apprehend and detain undocumented migrants, are not experts in asylum law and are not prepared to make life-and-death decisions in this area.»

«The new policy represents a conflict of interest for Border Patrol agents,» the chairman of the bishop’s Migration Committee said.

«They should not be given the task of an adjudicator, who is trained to ascertain whether an entrant should receive the protection of U.S. asylum law,» he said. «The training of a law enforcement official and an enforcement agency is to enforce the law, not interpret it.»

«We ask the administration to reconsider this new policy,» Bishop Wenski added. «The use and expansion of expedited removal within the United States further erodes the cherished tradition of our nation as a place of safe haven for the world’s persecuted and undermines our nation’s moral credibility throughout the world.»

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