A Homeland Security spokesman said Wednesday that a “variety of factors” went into the decision to impose sanctions on four countries that refuse to cooperate with the U.S. government when it comes to taking back their illegal and criminal immigrants.
In the wake of the decision, Department spokesman David Lapan said the hope is that all countries begin to meet their obligations to repatriate their own citizen when the U.S. tries to deport them.
He wouldn’t name the four countries that will be hit with visa sanctions, saying it is up to the State Department to decide how severely to punish the countries, but under the law at least some of their citizens — if not all — could be denied the ability to obtain immigrant or visitor visas to travel to the U.S.
“Our goal is to get countries to agree to accept the return of their nationals,” Mr. Lapan said.
The Washington Times first reported on the decision this week. Sources who tracked the deliberations told The Times that the four countries were: Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Embassy officials from each of those countries did not return messages seeking comment this week.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke last week signed letters triggering Section 243(d) of the immigration code, a rarely used but powerful tool intended to try to prevent sanctuary countries — nations that leave illegal immigrants on the streets of the U.S. by refusing to take them back.
Under 243(d), now that the letters have been sent, the State Department must impose some sanctions. The department can decide whether to use immigrant or non-immigrant visas, and whether to deny them to all citizens of those countries or a subset, such as government officials.
State Department officials will release the names of the countries when they make final decisions on punishments.
Twelve countries are currently on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s list of “recalcitrant” nations that seriously hinder deportations: China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Iran, Guinea, Cambodia, Eritrea, Myanmar, Morocco, Hong Kong and South Sudan.
They are, in essence, sanctuary countries. Many of the immigrants they refuse to take back have criminal records — including murder — but ICE is required under a 2001 Supreme Court ruling to release the immigrants back onto the streets at some point.
Mr. Lapan said that means “tens of thousands” of people have been released.
He said Homeland Security’s decision to sanction four countries was based on how long the countries had been on the list, whether they’ve been showing progress in cooperating, and other diplomatic considerations.
The law has been triggered twice in the past: against Guyana in 2001 and the Gambia last year.
In each case, the State Department only stopped issuing visas to government officials and their families.
Still, that was enough. In the case of Guyana, that government almost immediately agreed to take back 112 of 113 backlogged deportees. Officials for the Gambia also said they took steps last year after being hit with sanctions.