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Advocates denounce Biden administration's deportation 'perp walks'

Immigration advocacy groups are slamming the Biden administration for distributing videos of families boarding deportation flights to tout its repatriations of foreign nationals.

A coalition of 11 groups Friday called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop distributing the footage — sent to media outlets as “B-roll for removal flights” — and called on outlets to avoid using it.

“The use of this footage is shocking and dehumanizing, and ICE should immediately discontinue it,” read the release, led by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). 

“Entirely missing from these frames is the complexity of the human story behind each family, including the love, devotion, and courage that led that family to leave their homes in search of safety and the trauma of being forced back to danger. The blurred faces, militarized surroundings, and police pat downs of parents clinging to their children dehumanizes these families and portrays them as threats.”

The Hill reached out to ICE for comment.

In the Biden administration’s carrot-and-stick approach to immigration policy, the videos are part of the stick — attempts both to deter migrants from coming to the United States and to curtail Republican attacks over conditions at the border.

“These are people who have in many cases [fled] to the United States for safety. And we turn around and basically dehumanize them to make a point about our immigration or about our strong immigration stance,” said Tom Cartwright, an advocate with Witness at the Border, one of the groups that signed the appeal.

“This is something I would have expected under the old administration, not under this administration.”

Republicans, meanwhile, are unlikely to ease off on one of their top political cudgels against the administration, and advocates say deterrence has proven useless.

“The U.S. government has been trying to discourage migration to the United States using the deterrence framework, officially at least since 1994, and just continues to ignore the fact that there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that it has ever worked,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at NIJC.

Migration flows over the last three decades have more closely correlated with economic and political conditions in specific countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, even as U.S. border policies have gradually tightened.

“If the administration knows — as they must — that this theory of deterrence doesn’t work, then it becomes clear that this is political,” said Altman.

ICE’s choice to publicly tout tough enforcement angers advocates, especially in the wake of violent attacks like the 2019 El Paso mass shooting, where a gunman who expressed xenophobic intent killed 23 people.

“It’s been clear for a while now that the political discourse around immigration is increasingly xenophobic, increasingly includes dehumanizing references and images and call-outs,” said Altman.

“And what we’ve been waiting for is for the administration for the current leadership to present an alternative framework that acknowledges the humanity of people seeking asylum in the United States, that acknowledges the right to seek asylum at the southern border.”

And the specific content of the videos also angered advocates, who equated them to controversial “perp walks” used by police in criminal cases.

“The fact that they’re not criminal cases, and the fact that many law enforcement agencies shirk away now from doing these kinds of perp walks — because it’s almost a form of exploitation,” said Cartwright.

The “perp walk” has for decades been a matter of debate in major police departments amid concerns that the exercise can unjustly augment negative public perceptions of detainees.

“I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a perp walk in a law enforcement situation,” said Cartwright.

Source: The Hill

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