WashU Expert: Prosecuting migrant families still ‘cruel and unnecessary’

Obama's former chief immigration counsel calls for common sense approach

President Donald Trump on June 20 directed his administration to detain migrant families together instead of separating parents from their children, but one of the nation’s leading immigration experts argues that jailing migrant families is still “cruel and unnecessary” under U.S. law.


“Jailing a migrant family together is better than tearing the family apart, but a jail by any other name is still a jail,” said Stephen Legomsky, the John S. Lehmann University Professor Emeritus at the Washington University School of Law.

“It is both cruel and unnecessary to mandate the criminal prosecution of traumatized, asylum-seeking families fleeing unspeakable violence for the misdemeanor of entry without inspection.”

Legomsky, the former chief counsel for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, is principal author of the law school coursebook “Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy” (7th edition forthcoming).

He argues that detention policies should never be set based on political agendas.

“As with any other misdemeanor, the filing of criminal charges should be governed by prosecutorial discretion and common sense. If their asylum claims are ultimately denied, deportation is enough of a penalty,” Legomsky said.

“Moreover, pre-trial detention of asylum-seekers is appropriate only when the particular individual is either a threat to public safety or likely to abscond — never as a deterrent to filing for asylum and never as a cynical bargaining chip for repressive legislation,” he said.

Professor Legomsky can be reached by email at legomsky@wustl.edu, by phone at 314-935-6469 (office) or via Washington University Public Affairs.


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