President Barack Obama's administration has begun backtracking on its pledge to jail illegal immigrants now that prison space is running low. Immigration officials have begun releasing a large number of Haitian migrants with orders for them to return at a later date to immigration court.
"ICE prioritizes the removal of national security threats, convicted felons, individuals convicted of significant or multiple misdemeanors, and individuals apprehended at or between ports of entry while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States," said Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (or ICE), reports The Associated Press.
Some 5,000 Haitian immigrants have entered the United States from Mexico since October 2015. The wave of migrants has caused overcrowding in the nation’s immigration prisons.
Think Progress adds that another 4,000 to 6,000 Haitians may be currently making their way to the United States.
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According to the AP, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced in early November that the nation’s detention facilities are currently holding 41,000 people, as opposed to the typical 31,000 to 34,000.
On Nov. 17, Customs and Border Protection announced a new prison facility in Tornillo, Texas, near the Mexican border, to deal with the massive wave of Haitian immigrants. The facility will hold 500 inmates.
Nicole Ramos, an immigration attorney in California, said that she has seen an “unprecedented” amount of Haitian immigrants recently, reports Think Progress.
“People are expressing genuine fear of [returning] to Haiti and other countries based upon persecution on account of one of the five protected grounds (political opinion, religion, nationality, race, membership in a particular social group),” Ramos said.
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In September, Johnson announced that his department would continue to deport illegal Haitian immigrants.
“The situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis, consistent with the practice for nationals from other nations,” Johnson’s statement says.
He later added: “DHS will continue to promote safe, orderly avenues for Haitian nationals seeking to immigrate to the United States.”