Re­cal­ci­trant coun­tries now tak­ing back U.S. de­por­tees

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Sierra Leone for years had thumbed its nose at U.S. of­fi­cials, slow-walk­ing de­por­ta­tions so badly that it earned its way onto Home­land Se­cu­rity’s “re­cal­ci­trant coun­try” naughty list. Over the last two years of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Sierra Leone took back just 21 de­por­tees.

Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice vow­ing ac­tion, and one of his first ex­ec­u­tive orders in­structed his ad­min­is­tra­tion to stop is­su­ing visas to the worst-of­fend­ing coun­tries. Af­ter the Sierra Leone gov­ern­ment was tar­geted with sanc­tions in Au­gust 2017, change came quickly, with 44 de­por­tees sent back that year and 79 in fis­cal 2018.

While much of Mr. Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion agenda re­mains tied up in the fed­eral courts or stale­mated in Congress, he has made ex­tra­or­di­nary progress on re­cal­ci­trant coun­tries such as Sierra Leone, cut­ting the num­ber of dead­beat coun­tries from a peak of 23 in 2015 to nine as of last month.

The num­ber of coun­tries on the atrisk list, or close to re­cal­ci­trant, has been slashed from 62 to 24 as of May.

Long­time dead­beats such as Cuba, China and Viet­nam are tak­ing back hun­dreds more peo­ple, even though they re­main on the naughty list.

Guinea earned its way off the list by in­creas­ing its ac­cep­tance of de­por­tees by more than 1,200 per­cent from 2016 to 2018. Eritrea went from 13 de­por­tees in Pres­i­dent Obama’s fi­nal year to 62 last year. Myan­mar rose from three to 40.

In fact, only one coun­try on the re­cal­ci­trant or at-risk lists did worse last year than in the fi­nal year of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Times anal­y­sis of Home­land Se­cu­rity data. The hold­out, Ethiopia, ac­cepted 37 de­por­tees in 2016 but just 36 last year. Even it, how­ever, did take back 46 of its de­ported cit­i­zens in 2017.

“Un­der Pres­i­dent Trump, we have made his­toric progress in en­sur­ing coun­tries take back their na­tion­als who have no le­gal right to live or work in the United States,” said Katie Wald­man, a spokes­woman for the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment.

The State De­part­ment is­sues visa sanc­tions af­ter the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment no­ti­fies it that a coun­try is de­lay­ing or deny­ing ac­cep­tance of its de­por­tees.

That power has been on the books for years but had been used only twice — once in 2001 by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and once in late 2016 by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Un­der Mr. Trump, six coun­tries have al­ready been slapped with de­por­tee-re­lated sanc­tions.

In each of those cases, the U.S. gov­ern­ment said it would no longer is­sue busi­ness or tourist visas to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and their fam­i­lies — and warned that broader sanc­tions could fol­low.

That got the at­ten­tion of diplo­mats in the tar­get coun­tries and else­where.

“Now these coun­tries un­der­stand that the party is over and they — gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in par­tic­u­lar — will face con­se­quences for block­ing de­por­ta­tions,” said Jes­sica Vaughan, pol­icy stud­ies di­rec­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies. “The sanc­tions work.”

Still, a mas­sive back­log has built up of peo­ple wait­ing to be de­ported. China is the worst of­fender with more than 40,000 in the queue, fol­lowed by Cuba with nearly 38,000.

More trou­bling is that al­most all of them have been set free into U.S. com­mu­ni­ties thanks to a 2001 Supreme Court rul­ing lim­it­ing de­ten­tion to just six months in cases when the gov­ern­ment doesn’t ap­pear likely to be able to get the other coun­tries to take back de­por­tees.

That means con­victed crim­i­nals are of­ten re­leased, in­clud­ing more than 30,000 of the Cubans, nearly 8,000 Viet­namese, nearly 4,000 Lao­tians and more than 2,000 Chi­nese.

Ms. Wald­man called that a “re­mark­able pub­lic safety risk” that re­quires ac­tion by Congress.

U.S. au­thor­i­ties last year won a five-year sen­tence against a Ghana­ian man who ran a heroin dis­tri­bu­tion op­er­a­tion from his apart­ment in Na­tional Har­bor, in the suburbs of Wash­ing­ton.

Jef­frey Okyere had amassed a crim­i­nal record and was de­ported. He sneaked back into the U.S., was caught and served time for that il­le­gal re-en­try. Ghana re­fused to take him back after­ward, and he had to be re­leased into the com­mu­nity. He was nabbed af­ter sell­ing thou­sands of dol­lars of heroin to an un­der­cover of­fi­cer.

The Ghana­ian gov­ern­ment has re­fused to re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment about its de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

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