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Controlling Alien Admission – Immigrants – Coast Guard Migrant Interdiction

Recently, the United States Coast Guard was made a part of the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Part of the Coast Guard’s mission is the interdiction of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. by sea and the general enforcement of immigration law at sea.

What Authority Allows the Coast Guard to Enforce Immigration Law at Sea?

As early as 1808, the Coast Guard’s predecessor, the Revenue Cutter Service, was congressionally directed to enforce federal law prohibiting the importation of slaves into the country. Through 1980, the Coast Guard or its predecessor only performed migrant interdiction as part and parcel of other missions, such as search and rescue or boarding of suspicious vessels. However, a presidential order executed by President Bush now requires the Coast Guard to interdict migrants at sea and to return them to their home countries if they have not reached U.S. soil.

Aside from the Coast Guard, a few other federal agencies are involved with migrant interdiction. Specifically, the Navy rescues migrants in distress, and Customs and Border Protection, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement sometimes interdict migrants close to shore. When an agency other than the Coast Guard interdicts migrants, however, the migrants are turned over to the Coast Guard until Citizenship and Immigration Services determines their disposition.

How Does the Coast Guard Perform Migrant Interdiction?

The Coast Guard has specialized units that perform migrant interdiction, but when these units are not available, other units perform interdiction when they detect migrants. Two situations present peculiar challenges for the Coast Guard: mass migrations and professional migrant smuggling. In a mass migration, a large numbers of migrants leave their home country due to an emergency and later attempt to enter the U.S. The sheer number of migrants in these mass migrations can stretch Coast Guard resources.

Second, professional smugglers often use high-speed watercraft to smuggle large numbers of migrants to the U.S. By crowding migrants onto vessels, smugglers can increase their profits. Unfortunately, crowded quarters often overload vessels and create health hazards, as well.

What Happens to Interdicted Migrants?

The fate of an interdicted migrant depends upon several factors, particularly his or her health status, his or her location when interdicted, and his or her claim to the protections of asylum. If an interdicted migrant has reached U.S. soil, which encompasses rocks, bridges, and piers, formal immigration procedures determine his or her fate. Additionally, if an interdicted migrant requires urgent medical care to preserve life or limb and that care cannot be provided at sea, the Coast Guard will transport the migrant to the closest appropriate medical facility on land for treatment. If a migrant claims asylum, the Coast Guard temporary cares for him or her until the proper agency interviews him or her to determine the claim.

Migrants captured at sea that do not need urgent care and do not claim asylum are returned to their home countries.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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