However, while the Justice Department clarifies that “internal transportation of unauthorized aliens” is illegal, both the Heritage report and Howell declined to use the word to characterize the actions of NGOs offering assistance to migrants.
Historically, NGOs have worked directly with CBP and ICE, providing additional options when DHS was unable to hold migrants in detention.
Migrants who can be found in NGO shelters in the US have been released by the federal government and are allowed to remain legally in the country pending immigration court proceedings.
“We accuse them of doing something wrong in a moral and patriotic way,” Howell said. “They are completing the last leg of the human smuggling chain that starts when the cartels take people out at the border.”
Aaron Reuchlin-Melnick, policy director for the American Immigration Council, a non-profit organization, explained that it is wrong for the report to suggest that migrants or NGOs are doing something illegal or inappropriate.
“By the time the migrant arrives at the shelter,” he said, “it would be just as legal for an NGO to give him a bus ticket as it would be for an NGO to give a bus ticket to any random person in the country.”
“We should be proud, not angry, of how volunteer organizations have worked alongside federal, state, and local governments to create a collaborative border management model.”
Despite this, NGOs that work in tandem with federal agencies to offer assistance to newly arrived migrants have recently been the targets of criticism and calls for investigations.
Most recently, Gov. Greg Abbott called on the state’s attorney general to investigate whether NGOs are transporting “illegal immigrants across our borders.”
And also in Texas, Republican Congressman Lance Gooden wrote to Catholic charities that Congress, due to meet this month, will launch an investigation into “potential violations of federal law and misuse of taxpayer funds” by the organization in 2023.
Gooden said in a letter to a Catholic charity that the organization “could be subject to prosecution.”
Despite threats of investigation and publicly circulated reports and letters, Raikhlin-Melnik said there would likely be no legal basis for such action.
“It’s fully approved by the federal government,” he said. “They help provide assistance to non-governmental organizations responding to migrants through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, a program that Congress specifically authorized to reimburse organizations helping to respond to the situation at the border.”
Regardless of politics, the privacy implications of Heritage’s approach to researching its report go beyond immigration and immigration policy, Lipton said.
“There are a lot of security issues here for people who are US citizens,” Lipton said. “The fact that they use some of this information to say that there may be people who migrate to other parts of the country does not mean that they do not have all this information about everyone who was in these places at the time. ”