The Council Seeks Records on How the Government Interdicts Migrants at Sea

Friday, June 28, 2024
Last modified: 
June 28, 2024
The American Immigration Council filed requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn about the process migrants go through after they are interdicted by U.S. Coast Guard personnel.

Migrant interdictions refer to instances when the USCG intercepts vessels carrying migrants on U.S. naval territory. Late last year, media reports recounted tragic stories of migrants, including children, fleeing the dangerous conditions in Haiti on boats to seek protection in the United States. The USCG, an arm of the DHS tasked with patrolling the nation’s territorial waters, often intercepts ships carrying migrants and detains those individuals before they can set foot in the United States. Migrants who express a fear of persecution in their country of origin, and migrant children in particular, are entitled to special protection from repatriation. However, the public has limited information about how the U.S. Coast Guard ensures that migrants entitled to these protections receive a fair process so that their claims for protection can be assessed.

Government information reveals that USCIS interviews interdicted migrants if they express fear of return while still on Coast Guard vessels. These interviews determine migrants’ fate, as officers decide if those individuals will be repatriated. What remains a mystery is whether these interviews occur under the appropriate circumstances and how USCIS conducts these interviews. Further, data about interdicted migrants is not readily available.

The three requests the Council filed under the FOIA will elucidate what happens to migrants aboard these Coast Guard vessels after they are interdicted at sea. The requests seek the following information:

  • Records about the agencies’ procedures when the Coast Guard discovers migrants in a vessel at sea, including the procedures to be followed when the migrants are minors.
  • Records about the process the agencies must follow when migrants express fear of returning to their home countries.
  • Information about how the agencies provide language access for migrants encountered at sea who have limited English proficiency.
  • Data on migrant interdictions.

The information obtained through these requests will shed light on how the U.S. government treats migrants found at sea and whether the government is giving them a fair opportunity to seek protection from persecution.

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