Washington, DC, February 13, 2018 – Senators should address childhood arrivals to the United States and clean up an abusive immigration system during their immigration debate, Human Rights Watch said today.

The debate was scheduled for February 13-15, 2018 by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after Congress reached a two-year bipartisan budget agreement on February 8. It will cover a wide range of proposals from both parties on a laundry list of issues facing the country’s immigration system, including enforcement provisions proposed by the White House.

“No one should get distracted by the avalanche of proposals we’re likely to hear in the coming days,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, US advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “The Senate should pass a clean Dream Act and begin the process of providing broader protection from deportation and separation to deeply rooted immigrants and their families.”

Creating a legalization process for people with deep and longstanding ties to the United States, such as those who arrived in the country as children, should be a central aim of efforts to reform the immigration system, Human Rights Watch said. As illustrated by interviews Human Rights Watch conducted with recent deportees in Mexico, the current system’s failure to provide such an avenue harms American families and communities, including US citizen children.

David Barcenas, as just one example, was brought to the US when he was a 2-year-old. He was deported after a traffic stop and separated from his US citizen wife and four children. Since his deportation in May 2017, his wife, Melissa, has struggled emotionally and financially. “We cry daily for him. It doesn’t get easier with time,” she said. David’s stepdaughter, Alyssa, said, “It feels like our family’s broken.”

On February 12, the White House released its fiscal year 2019 budget request, including an additional 2,000 ICE agents and 750 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, as well as an increase in the number of immigration detention beds.

Among the proposals before the Senate are to authorize funding for more immigration enforcement agents and detention bed space. But unless accompanied by fundamental legal reforms, any increase in enforcement efforts would lead to more unjustifiable deportations that rip apart American families, Human Rights Watch said.

“Congress can’t afford to ignore the hard reality of festering abuse in the US immigration system,” Tyler said. “They should fix this broken system, not throw more money at it.”

Senators should be especially wary of proposals that would place more people in the sprawling, costly, and abusive immigration detention system, exposing them to hazards including subpar medical care that has led to detainee deaths. The system currently locks up thousands of parents of US citizen children each year, separating children from their parents.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants detained yearly by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are detained without any individualized consideration of whether there is any real need to hold them. A number of possible proposals would expose even more people to such “mandatory” detention, when what the government should be doing is scaling it back.

Senators should also refrain from reviving old proposals that would roll back protection for unaccompanied child migrants, deporting more children rapidly or sending them to immigration court with no legal representation – or imposing unjustifiably broad bars on remaining in the country for people who have had forced contact with gangs.

“Congress should focus on protecting deeply rooted immigrants from deportation now and educate itself about the existing excesses in immigration enforcement,” Tyler said. “As Congress debates the budget it allocates to the US immigration system, it should appropriate funds to increase transparency and hold immigration agencies accountable for effective, rights-respecting operations.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on US immigration issues, please visit: