Reuters on Friday reported that the Obama administration is preparing for its “largest deportation sweep targeting immigrant families” scheduled for May and June. The deportations will be focused on Central American asylum seekers who arrived in the United States after January 1, 2014.
The “border surge” in 2014 that targeted thousands of asylum seekers fleeing violence from the Northern Triangle region of Central America has been called a “humanitarian crisis,” but Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has taken an aggressive stance against this vulnerable population.
The raids, Johnson said, were designed to send a message that “if you come here illegally, we will send you back.”
Raids targeting Central American families swept through North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia in early January, resulting in the detainment of 121 women and children. It is believed that many of the raids were unlawful, as many of those targeted were disabled, as defined under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
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The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported that raids in Atlanta were “potentially unconstitutional.” Children picked up in the raids were as young as 4 years old and advocates have said that the targeting of mothers and children is “reproductive injustice,” saying it is “just plain immoral to send children and their families back to face the same harm and danger from which they fled.”
Beginning January 23, DHS’s “Operation Border Guardian” resulted in the arrest of 336 young people after a series of raids targeting Central American teenagers who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors and who have since turned 18.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “has now told field offices nationwide to launch a 30-day ‘surge’ of arrests focused on mothers and children who have already been told to leave the United States,” according to Reuters. The news agency reports that the operation will include the same population targeted by Operation Border Guardian.
Criticism of the Obama administration’s announced raids has been swift.
“These potentially unconstitutional raids have done nothing to make our communities safer, and have instead undermined trust in law enforcement,” said Eunice Cho, a staff attorney with the SPLC. “Instead of targeting immigrant women and children, the United States should adopt a more humanitarian approach to the crisis compelling migration from Central America, and ensure stronger due process protections to people seeking a better life here.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) condemned the raids, charging that immigration officials were contributing to the trauma experienced by families fleeing Central American violence.
“The targeting of refugee mothers and children is outrageous and diametrically opposed to our values as a nation. To deport these individuals and tear apart families is inhumane. … Rounding up and detaining refugees will undoubtedly lead to the re-victimization of refugee families fleeing gang warfare and drug violence,” Chu said. “These raids were wrong in January and they are wrong today. Refugees with credible fear have a legal right to be in this country. They deserve due process and a fair day in court with access to appropriate language services as needed.”
Organizations like Alerta Migratoria NC, which formed in response to Operation Border Guardian after the detainment and deportation of several undocumented North Carolina youth, are scrambling to inform undocumented communities of their rights should “immigration come to their door.” The organization distributed flyers that include tips such as asking immigration officials for their identification, and asking to see a warrant.
The dates of the raids are unknown.