A new Trump administration initiative, taking aim at countries that have refused to take back their citizens who are illegally in the United States, made Wendy Hartling think of her daughter.
Casey Chadwick, 25, died in 2015 in Norwich, Connecticut, at the hands of Jean Jacques — an illegal immigrant who had been convicted of attempted murder and was the subject of a deportation order. But his home country, Haiti, had not cooperated with U.S. officials. Jacques murdered Chadwick despite the fact he should have been removed from the U.S.
The case turned her mother, Hartling, into an activist. She expressed frustration during last year’s presidential election that then-President Barack Obama had done little to pressure countries such as Haiti. She praised this week’s announcement of sanctions against Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
“I’m overjoyed to hear this, and I hope Homeland Security and the president and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], I hope this is for real and Casey didn’t die in vain,” she said. “My daughter would still be here if Haiti had taken Jean Jacques back.”
The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that the State Department will impose sanctions on officials from the four countries, which all have denied or “unreasonably delayed” accepting their citizens under deportation orders in the United States.
“International law obligates each country to accept the return of its nationals ordered removed from the United States,” acting Homeland Secretary Elaine Duke said in a prepared statement. “Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have failed in that responsibility. The United States itself routinely cooperates with foreign governments in documenting and accepting its citizens when asked, as do the majority of countries in the world. However, these countries have failed to do so, and that one-way street ends with these sanctions.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has ordered consular offices in the targeted countries to implement visa restrictions on certain categories of visa applicants. The specifics vary from country to country:
- Employees of the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the rank of director general and above — and their families — have lost their ability to obtain B visas for business or pleasure travel to the United States.
- All B visas have been suspended for residents of Eritrea.
- Government officials of Guinea and their immediate family members have lost the ability to obtain B visas, as well as F, J and M visas for student and exchange programs.
- Employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and immigration officials in Sierra Leone have lost their ability to obtain B visas.
Advocates of tougher immigration enforcement praised the move. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it is a welcome change from the inaction of President Donald Trump’s predecessor.
“The point is they are actually doing something to put these countries on notice,” he said. “We’ve done nothing [in recent years] to enforce it.”
Because of a 2001 Supreme Court decision, Zadvydas v. Davis, ICE cannot indefinitely detain illegal immigrants who have finished serving prison sentences for crimes committed in the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, ICE has been forced to release 2,317 Guineans and 831 Sierra Leoneans, some of whom have committed serious offenses. About 700 Eritreans are subject to final orders of deportation, as are more than 1,900 Cambodians — including 1,412 who have criminal convictions.
“American citizens have been harmed because foreign governments refuse to take back their citizens,” Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said in a prepared statement. “These sanctions will ensure that the problem these countries pose will get no worse as ICE continues its work to remove dangerous criminals from the United States.”
The four targeted countries are among 11 plus Hong Kong that ICE officials consider “recalcitrant.” The others are China, Cuba, Guinea, Iran, Laos, Morocco, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Vietnam.
Hartling, the mother of the murdered Connecticut woman, urged the administration not to stop there.
“I hope that after these four countries, we get to the other countries,” she said.
Officials said they would consider taking additional actions if the countries do not reverse course. Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the United States has more leverage over some countries than, for example, Iran. And some countries, such as China, present other challenges because it is so large and has such a complicated relationship with the United States.
“These countries were a problem, all of them,” she said. “Of course, many more are also a problem. But the approach has to be different with different countries.”
But Vaughan said even relatively modest actions can bring results with some countries. She noted that the threat of visa restrictions on government officials and their families prompted Guyana in 2001 to take nearly all of the 112 illegal immigrants it had resisting accepting.
“Part of the strategy, I’m sure, is that some of these other countries … will take note and realize they will be subject to sanctions, too,” she said.