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Undocumented immigrants in detention in Los Angeles County. (2011 file photo by Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Washington, D.C.) February 25, 2014 — Migrants are frequently deported from the United States after midnight without identity documents, prescription medications or their valuable personal belongings; and families are routinely split up during the deportation process. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA believes the U.S. must enact changes to improve the security situation for newly deported migrants. 

Deportations sometimes take place in Mexican border towns the U.S. State Department has deemed too dangerous for tourists and its own personnel. Inadequate provision for the safety of particularly vulnerable people, including unaccompanied children, pregnant women, and elderly or infirm individuals, is an ongoing concern. 

While improvements in U.S. law and policy are needed to protect the rights of asylum seekers, forcibly displaced people, vulnerable migrants, and detained immigrants in the United States, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA also believes there is a moral imperative to changing the current deportation practices of the United States. 

As Jesuit Father Thomas Smolich S.J., the President of the Jesuit Conference of the United States and a member of the Board of Directors of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA wrote in an op-ed published by The Hill, "My Catholic faith teaches that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, possess human dignity and are worthy of respect. In its memorandum of understanding on the safe repatriation of Mexican nationals, the U.S. government recognizes in word the human dignity of the migrant by demanding that deportations to Mexico be carried out in a 'safe, orderly, dignified and humane' manner. However, a review of the evidence indicates that in deed this commitment is not carried out."

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA urges the U.S. to enact these concrete, commonsense recommendations. We believe they would much improve the security situation for newly deported migrants.

1. End all night-time deportations: At each port of entry, U.S. authorities transport migrants to a predetermined location, often a public plaza. This allows local gangs, smugglers, traffickers and organized crime to easily identify and prey upon migrants and target them immediately upon arrival. When deportations happen in the middle of the night, when shelters and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are closed, migrants are especially vulnerable to attack, extortion or exploitation. 

2. End family separation during the deportation process: The Department of Homeland Security should develop and implement a standardized process to determine familial relationships among apprehended migrants and take steps to ensure that deportation practices do not needlessly separate family members, especially by deporting family members to different ports of entry from one another. 

3. Do not deport individuals to particularly dangerous locations: Because of lateral repatriation policies, male migrants are increasingly deported to border towns so dangerous that U.S. government personnel are prohibited from being outside at night. For example, Mexico's National Institute of Migration reports that deportations to the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas increased five-fold between 2006 and 2012, despite the fact that homicides—a key indicator of increasing danger—were rising.

4. Return all belongings prior to deportation: All belongings should be returned to migrants. In particular, the return of money, identity documents, medications, and cell phones are especially crucial for survival in the first few days after deportation and allow Mexican nationals to communicate with their families and interface with the Mexican government. Specifically, money should be returned in a usable form — for example, not as a U.S. domestic check that is difficult to cash in Mexico. 

5. Provide prior notification to Mexican authorities of people with special needs: Unaccompanied children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, people with serious medical conditions and elderly individuals may all require additional care, preparation and special transportation. Providing information to Mexican officials well in advance of implementing a deportation would help these vulnerable individuals get the prompt and adequate care they need. This safeguard is already in place for deportations to Coahuila and should be extended throughout the border.

6. Provide opportunities for border NGO input: Provide a clear, transparent, and public process through which NGOs can supply U.S. authorities with information and input in advance of renegotiations of the Local Arrangement for Repatriation. NGOs often have crucial information about what services are available at what time, as well as challenges associated with safeguarding migrants’ lives in the context of current practices. When governments and NGOs work together, recently deported migrants are better served and protected.

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JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
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