How Red Notices and Diffusions Issued by Interpol Affect Immigration to the United States

Globalization has affected business, tourism and crime. Interpol is an international organization that helps local and national police forces fight international crime by providing them with shared international databases and communication channels. Interpol does not investigate crimes or conduct prosecutions. One of Interpol’s major functions is to distribute information about internationally “wanted” persons in the form of Red Notices and Diffusions. 

Red Notices and Diffusions: What are They?

A Red Notice is an alert published by Interpol at the request of the international arm of a police force associated with a member nation. Interpol's communications channels then function as a "Wanted" poster on a post office wall in the U.S. After being stored on Interpol's databases, a Red Notice can be seen by police and immigration officials worldwide. A Red Notice seeks the detention or arrest of its subject for the purpose of extradition or similar legal act.

A Diffusion is similar to a Red Notice, except that it is not published ‘by’ INTERPOL, but is circulated through Interpol by the country itself. To extend the post office analogy, imagine the police asking post offices throughout the world to put up posters of a wanted criminal on their walls. That is like a Red Notice. Alternatively, imagine a police force dispatching their own staff to various post offices to place these posters on the walls themselves. That is like a Diffusion. 

High Profile Example: Wikileaks’ Julian Assange

One high-profile example of the effects of a Red Notice is the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who spent nearly seven years in refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid arrest as a consequence of an Interpol Red Notice issued against him. In April 2019, the U.K. Metropolitan Police arrested Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy with the consent of the government of Ecuador. He is now incarcerated in London.

Numerical Impact

In terms of numbers of immigrants, Red Notices and Diffusions don’t exert much of an influence. By the end of 2019, for example, there was a cumulative total of 116,597 Red Notices and 100,811 Diffusions in circulation throughout the entire world. 

Compare these figures with approximately one million immigrants who enter the U.S. every single year, for a cumulative total of 44 million,  to gain some perspective on the relatively limited effect that Interpol Red Notices and Diffusions have on U.S. immigration. However, these two instruments can exert a devastating and often unjust impact upon those who are subject to them.

Abuse of Red Notices and Diffusions

Unlike many jurisdictions, U.S. law does not require immigration officials to automatically arrest any would-be immigrant subject to a Red Notice or a Diffusion. Instead, any action must be initiated with an arrest warrant issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office, based on probable cause.

However, immigration lawyers and immigrant advocacy organizations complain that U.S. immigration officials routinely exceed their lawful authority by arresting legal immigrants based solely on the fact that a Red Notice or Diffusion has been issued against them. Advocates also charge that immigration judges often deny bonds to immigrants for this reason only.

A further complaint is that Red Notices and Diffusions are abused by authoritarian regimes such as China, Venezuela, Russia, Turkey, and that by arresting lawful immigrants based on these notices, U.S. immigration officials are cooperating with these regimes to help persecute their dissidents. This blatant violation of due process, if true, is a stain upon the honor of the United States and every principle that it stands for.

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