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ICE raids would lead to 'tremendous human rights abuses'

Carla Bleiker Washington
July 15, 2019

Grace Meng from Human Rights Watch told DW that even though recent immigration raids in US cities weren't as extensive as planned, they still struck fear in migrant communities. She also criticized new US asylum policy.

USA Agenten der US Einwanderungs- und Zollbehörde ICE
Image: picture-alliance/ZumaPress

DW: How extensive were the long-announced Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids that were supposed to take place on Sunday?

Grace Meng: There were definitely reports of people having agents come to their door, but they didn't open, because the agents didn't have warrants. There were some rumors of ICE activity at subways in New York City, but they turned out to be false. It seems like, at least for the weekend, the raids did not happen as communities feared.

But there was still an enormous impact. People were afraid and chose not to do things that they would otherwise have done. And this is really just one day in what it's like to be an immigrant living under Trump.

Why do you think the large-scale raids did not happen?

Grace Meng
Meng: We are deeply concerned by the announced raidsImage: Human Rights Watch

Government officials who told media that these raids were going to start on Sunday also said they were going to happen over the course of a week, so we can't assume that they have been called off yet. They may still happen. There were also reports that officials said they had lost the element of surprise by having the raids announced in advance. So they may have decided not to start on Sunday, since they expected so many people to be in hiding.

What do you expect for this week?

I expect that people in hiding will continue to stay in hiding, that more people will forego taking their children to school or to medical care, that they'll make their activity outside their home as minimal as possible.

Certainly the intensity of fear that people are feeling right now is directly a result of the announced raids. But the general fear, the general decisions not to call the police when they're victims of crimes, not to seek medical care — those decisions have been made by immigrants fearful of deportation for a long time, not just this week.

What is your stance on these raids?

We are deeply concerned about the tremendous human rights abuses that flow from those massive raids as announced. If they were to arrest thousands of families, we would expect to see a cascade of such abuses: more family separation, more family detention. We would expect to see people suffering after already having gone through an immigration court process that often doesn't provide a fair hearing.

And as I mentioned, we would see people foregoing necessary, important services, including for children who are US citizens. The right to education is a really basic one that applies to all children, no matter what their status. Parents have chosen not to put their kids in school. This has happened in the past and I expect it to happen in the future. That has a real impact on those children.

Missing Dad! Deported from the USA

President Donald Trump does not just want to deport thousands of immigrants, he also wants to make sure that fewer people enter the US in the first place. There is a new asylum regulation to go into effect on Tuesday stating that immigrants who have passed through another country on their way to the US are not eligible to apply for asylum in the US anymore. That would mean you'd have to either be from Mexico or Canada, or fly directly to the US to be eligible. What do you make of that?

We are deeply concerned about the abuses we expect will happen if [Mexican authorities] focus on stopping Central American migrants from reaching the US.

The US has an obligation, under its own laws and under international law, to receive asylum applicants and to effectively ensure that they get a fair hearing. The countries in the region through which migrants often travel do not necessarily have adequate protection for asylum seekers. The US is not to push asylum seekers to other countries. That does not absolve the US of its obligations to protect them under international law.

I have met people who fled their countries because they were interpreters for the US military and traveled through Central America and Mexico [to apply for asylum in the US]. When they are fleeing persecution, they often don't get a visa to conveniently go to the place they want to get to. It's just another way that the Trump administration is trying to deter people from asserting their right to seek asylum.

Grace Meng is the acting deputy director of the US Program at the international nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker Editor, channel manager and reporter focusing on US politics and science@cbleiker