The Obama Administration has deported some 1.5 million people since taking office and as Colorlines.com revealed last year, more than one in five are parents of U.S. citizens. Many more have other relatives here. As the comprehensive immigration reform bill moves from committee to the Senate floor, many immigrants and immigration reform advocates will be watching a provision that would permit some deportees to return to the United States if they left behind U.S. citizen spouses, children or parents. Now, a set of new reports and investigations reveal what’s at stake as members of Congress consider what some advocates are calling the “right to return” provision: without a legal route to come back, many are travelling back over the border to reunite with their family, and thousands are ending up dead in the desert or locked up in federal prison.
Locked Up For Coming Back
In the past decade, the federal government has dramatically shifted the way it deals with immigrants who come back after deportation. Until recently, when deportees were caught trying to cross the border, they were deported. That’s still the case, but now, tens of thousands each year are also prosecuted criminally and locked up in federal prisons.
A report released today by Human Rights Watch today documents the federal government policy of prosecuting returning deportees for crossing back over the border. In the 2002, the federal government prosecuted about 11,000 people for the crimes of “illegal entry” and “illegal reentry.” By 2012, that number grew to 85,000.
The HRW report leads with the story of Alicia, who was deported in 2010. Her daughters were placed in foster care and she decided to try to cross back. When border patrol caught her, she was not just deported again, but also criminally prosecuted. She spent almost two weeks in prison. For those deported previously, sentences can last as long as 20 years.