Immigration advocates want human rights monitors to oversee U.S. deportations

Immigrant advocates on Monday asked international human rights monitors to step in and oversee the Obama administration’s deportation policies, saying the U.S. is violating international standards both in how it detains people and who it chooses to deport.

Testifying to the Organization of American States‘ human rights commission, advocates said the U.S. government doesn’t take into account family hardships when it decides to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants, and it said the administration treats illegal immigrants like criminals when it detains them.

“They’re chasing us down as if we were animals,” Saul Merlos, a father from New Orleans who is slated to be deported in December after 18 years in the U.S., told commissioners.

Asking the international commission to monitor U.S. deportation efforts is the latest move by advocates eager to shame President Obama, who they argue has set new records by deporting about 400,000 immigrants every year. Nearing the end of his fifth year in office, that means Mr. Obama will soon have overseen 2 million deportations.

The groups, which includes the AFL-CIO, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Stanford Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic, said maintaining deportation quotas pushes the administration to detain and deport more people than it should.

The Obama administration says it is trying to enforce the laws on the books, though it has exercised what it calls prosecutorial discretion in carving out large swaths of illegal immigrants it says it will not try to deport, among them illegal immigrants brought here as minors who are pursuing an education.

A new memo earlier this year also urged immigration agents to look at family ties when deciding whether to arrest an illegal immigrant.

Lawrence J. Gumbiner, the deputy permanent representative of the U.S. mission to the OAS, told commissioners he respected their right to look into U.S. policy, but said he couldn’t respond to the specific charges because of the government shutdown earlier this month, which he said cut down the time the U.S. had to prepare.

“This extraordinary event prevented the United States from undertaking full and adequate preparations for the hearing today,” he said.

He promised a response in writing within 30 days, and also said the commission could hold another hearing on the matter later.

Commissioners seemed nonplussed by his response and appeared sympathetic to the groups’ arguments, saying that the American immigration system should do more to take account of someone’s family ties before deportation.

“I would like to know what progress has been made in investigating and penalizing the actions taken by certain authorities, as we heard about today for example, where immigrants are being mistreated, they’re being subjected to treatments that are inconsistent with human dignity,” said Rodrigo Escobar Gil, a commissioner from Colombia.

The OAS has found fault with U.S. immigration policies in the past.

In a 155-page report in 2010, the human rights commission criticized U.S. policymakers for pushing more immigrants into detention as they are awaiting deportations, and urged the country to create a civil, rather than criminal, detention system.

“The Inter American Commission is convinced that in many if not the majority of cases, detention is a disproportionate measure and the alternatives to detention programs would be a more balanced means of serving the state’s legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with immigration laws,” the commissioners’ report concludes.

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