US immigration tries to excise Balkan ghosts

19 May 2015 by Ella Sonja West, Chicago (US)

Two months ago, the Balkans were rocked by a story in The New York Times that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was set to deport 150 Bosnians who lied on their immigration applications about involvement in the 1992-1995 war. ICE policies, however, may in fact be more nuanced than suggested by the headlines. And yet they still face criticism for their one-sided approach to Balkan immigrants.

Ligature used to bind victims hands in Srebrenica, unearthed during an exhumation there. (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)
Image caption: 
Ligature used to bind victims hands in Srebrenica, unearthed during an exhumation there. (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)

Since 2004, ICE has arrested over 275 people for alleged human rights violations and deported more than 590 known or suspected human rights violators. The work has been bolstered by its Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU), which uses multi-disciplinary teams of investigators, attorneys, intelligence analysts and historians to find suspected perpetrators from around the globe living in the US. A special Balkan regional support team at the HRVWCU investigates US residents suspected of human rights violations during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Focus on the Balkans?

According to ICE spokesperson Jennifer Elzea, the HRVWCU is first and foremost concerned with ensuring that human rights violators residing in the US be held accountable, and they use immigration proceedings to do so. Since most cases from the Balkans predate relevant US human rights laws, ICE sees filing criminal charges for immigration fraud as the only way for suspected perpetrators to serve jail time stateside before being deported.

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