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White House Memo Institutionalizes a National Policy of Cruelty

On Friday evening the President signed a memo ending a practice he refers to as “catch and release.” The term “catch and release” refers to the practice of allowing refugee men, women, and children who are fleeing persecution from their home countries to shelter with family, friends, or community in the United States while their asylum proceedings unfold in immigration court.  Ending this practice institutionalizes the jailing of all asylum seekers arriving at our southern border for the duration of their asylum cases, which can take months or years. We condemn the issuance of this memo and what it represents: a tearing apart of the very fabric of our nation’s identity as a place of welcoming and compassion.

This memo caps a week of cross-agency policies that undermine basic human rights protections and institutionalize a formal policy of cruelty toward migrants and asylum seekers. The President ordered the deployment of the National Guard to the southern border to respond to arriving refugee mothers, fathers, and children (amidst historically low numbers of apprehensions at the border). Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a directive clarifying its intent to detain even more pregnant women, while reports escalated of border patrol and ICE officers forcibly separating mothers and fathers from their terrified children at the border. And, as a backdrop, the Department of Justice moved forward with questionable policies that undermine the Constitution; these policies include imposing case quotas on immigration judges and rewarding judges who order the maximum number of deportations in the shortest period of time.

“The President and his cabinet members talk a lot about ‘law and order,’” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, “but with these actions they are shredding our most cherished legal, constitutional, and human rights principles: the right to due process, the right to liberty, the right to family unity, and the domestic and internationally protected right to seek asylum.“

The rhetoric behind these policies intentionally dehumanizes refugees and our immigrant neighbors. Our nation’s asylum laws are consistent with international refugee law. Welcoming asylum seekers and refugees into our communities cannot and must not be seen as “catch and release.” We reject these false narratives and stand today and always with refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrant communities. Please join us.