The recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Central American asylum seekers have been deemed “needlessly aggressive and potentially unconstitutional” by a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR).
Families in Fear: The Atlanta Immigration Raids focuses on the raids that took place in Georgia, the state hit hardest by the first large-scale effort to deport the more than 100,000 families who have fled violence in Central America since last year. The raids, which began January 2, spanned Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, resulting in the detainment of 121 people.
Despite previous reports that Central American “families” were targeted, SPLC states that everyone detained during the sweep was a woman or a child.
The stories of seven women detained during the raids form the basis of the report, which outlines the “grave constitutional concerns” surrounding the possibly unlawful detainment of the mothers and their children. According to the report, not only were the raids not conducted with warrants, which are required regardless of a person’s immigration status, but ICE agents also entered homes without obtaining lawful and voluntary consent.
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Women report that officers used the threat of arrest and illegal coercion to obtain entry into their homes, saying the women would be back in two hours. Seventy-seven of the women and children were deported within days of being detained, while others were sent to family detention centers hundreds of miles away in Texas. In some cases, the report says, ICE agents deceived residents by saying they were police officers searching for a criminal, even showing the women a photograph of a Black man.
During a press call on Thursday, Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at SPLC, told Rewire that the 77 women and children deported in the days following the raid never saw an attorney. The remaining women and children are being held in family detention “with no end in sight.”
ICE agents denied those women access to lawyers until after their removal to the South Texas Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas, often telling them they had no further legal options and failing to notify the women of a free, nonprofit legal organization at the detention center, according to SPLC and GLAHR. Once in detention, women were instructed to sign legal documents they did not understand: The report states that on multiple occasions, ICE agents instructed detainees to sign documents that were written only in English.
ICE’s refusal to release children and their mothers from detention is also in violation of a national settlement. The children have now been held in detention for more than 20 days, which is prohibited under Flores v. Johnson. That case determined that children arriving to the United States with their mothers should not be held in unlicensed detention centers.
Children in DHS custody have the right to be released to a parent, including their accompanying parent, regardless of the parent’s immigration status, according to SPLC. “DHS must release children with their mothers unless the mother poses a significant flight risk or public safety threat,” the report states.
SPLC is unsure of why some women were deported quickly while others are being held in detention. The organization reports that women still in detention refused to sign documents provided by ICE.
“Women told us they were under enormous duress to sign their papers,” Graybill said. “They felt very coerced and only some were able to resist.”
Many of the mothers and children detained had valid claims to immigration relief and had permission to remain in the United States because they complied with orders of supervision from ICE, including regular check-in appointments and wearing electronic ankle shackles that allowed ICE to track their location, says the report. Some of the women detained say they even had upcoming ICE appointments.
Digna Urias’ 32-year-old daughter, Ana Silvia Orellana Urias, was one of these women. When ICE agents appeared at her home, she was told it was because there was a problem with her ankle monitor.
“I knew that was a lie,” Urias said during the press call. “[Ana] Silvia did not miss appointments with immigration.”
It was because of this lie, Urias said, that her daughter opened her door to the agents. That’s when ICE agents took Ana and her four children, the youngest being 3 years old.
“They never showed a warrant and they told her that it was not a deportation and she would be back at the house in two hours. These were all lies,” Urias said during the press call.
Other women currently detained as a result of the Atlanta raids had not exhausted their legal options. When rolling out the initiative to detain and deport Central American women and children, the Department of Homeland Security asserted that all of the targeted people had been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, but a subsequent legal review of cases led by the Board of Immigration Appeals found that was not true.
As a result of the review, four families had their deportations blocked.
“We don’t know what is going to happen to my daughter or my grandchildren. They have nowhere to go in their country,” Urias said, referring to her daughter’s possible deportation to El Salvador, which has recently seen a 70 percent spike in violent deaths. “Their lives and their family is here. My daughter and my grandchildren are very scared. I’m very worried. The situation has affected us so much. It’s not fair that they can treat us like this.”
CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to reflect the number of women and children detained in the round of ICE raids.