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The National Immigrant Justice Center released a report today examining the abuses and racism inherent in the U.S. government’s system of prosecutions that punishes people for entering the United States without authorization.

Set against the backdrop of the rampant spread of COVID-19 inside U.S. prisons and detention centers and a nationwide call to confront the systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement practices that endanger Black and Brown communities, A Legacy of Injustice: The U.S. Criminalization of Migration sheds light on the deeply embedded injustices of migration-related prosecutions. These prosecutions account for more than half of criminal prosecution cases in federal courts and about 10 percent of the prison population.  

“Migration-related prosecution laws, which are steeped in white supremacy, have been weaponized to their full effect by the Trump administration,” said NIJC Senior Analyst Jesse Franzblau, who authored the report. “They have used these policies to destroy families, obstruct access to asylum protections, and subject immigrants to the punishment and abuses of the criminal legal system on top of the unjust consequences they face in the deeply flawed and punitive civil immigration enforcement system."

The report is available at immigrantjustice.org/LegacyofInjustice.

From June 2019 to March 2020, NIJC investigated the state of migration-related prosecutions in the United States, interviewing more than 50 people facing prosecution in Texas, Arizona, and California. NIJC’s research found that the U.S. government’s prosecution of unauthorized entry and reentry consistently results in:

  • permanent separation of family members
  • routine violation of international and domestic asylum law
  • violation of basic due process protections of individuals facing criminal charges
  • persistent dehumanizing and racist treatment of migrants by federal officials, including immigration officers

The report examines the history of the racist roots of migration prosecution laws and how they have fueled systems of mass incarceration. The report also examines the deadly harm people facing prosecution have experienced in prolonged detention in federal prison, as they wait for federal court hearings that have been postponed during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the individuals featured in the report are:

  • Alexis, a transgender woman from Guatemala, who was prosecuted and deported without a credible fear interview or a chance to see an immigration judge. While in CBP and U.S. Marshals custody, she reported being mocked for her gender presentation and made to feel unsafe.
  • Oliver, who was turned away at a U.S. port of entry when he tried to seek asylum. He crossed between ports and was prosecuted for unauthorized entry. He was detained for months in CBP and ICE custody.
  • Ana, a mother of three U.S. citizen children and grandmother to a baby girl, who remains in Mexico, separated from her family and precluded from entering the United States lawfully after she was prosecuted for unauthorized entry and deported.
  • Juan, who was arrested by immigration officials as he left the federal courthouse after his unauthorized entry charge was dropped and was then shuffled between California prisons. In June, Juan tested positive for COVID-19 while still in detention.

Among the report’s recommendation are calls for DHS and DOJ to suspend all prosecutions related to unauthorized entry and reentry, and for Congress to repeal Sections 1325 and 1326 of the Immigration and Nationalization Act, the laws that created criminal penalties for unauthorized entry and reentry.

“For decades, immigrant rights advocates have called for an end to migration-related prosecutions. The findings in this report support that call and provide further evidence why Congress must act urgently to repeal these laws,” Franzblau said. 

To arrange interviews with these individuals, contact Jordyn Rozensky, NIJC communications coordinator, at jrozensky@heartlandalliance.org or 773.502.7906.