The Obama administration is moving forward with planned immigration raids that could deport hundreds of Central American families that entered the United States illegally last year. The plan will specifically target families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids could begin as soon as next month.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun to prepare for a sweeping set of immigration raids, but the plan has not yet been finalized. The raids would represent the first widespread effort to remove families from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who fled their homes and crossed into the United States last year. The Washington Post reports that more than 100,000 refugee families entered the United States last year, representing a sharp upsurge, and including an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors.
Unlike sweeping immigration raids and deportation plans suggested by Donald Trump, and others, during this election cycle, the Obama administration’s plan will target only families and individuals who have already gone before an immigration judge and been ordered to leave the country. Many of these families and individuals claim to be refugees and seek asylum in the United States. For those who were denied asylum, the Obama administration is moving forward to forcibly deport them.
The Obama administration’s plan would utilize ICE agents to carry out raids on specific illegal immigrants. According to the Washington Post, these individuals and families would then be detained wherever they were found and immediately deported to their countries of origin.
Although Obama’s plan is specifically focused on people who have already been ordered to leave the country by a judge, it comes at a time when the topics of immigration and refugees are hot button issues. Speaking to CBS News, Greg Chen, a representative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, called the plan an “embarrassment” at a time when the United States has leaned on European nations and others to accept Syrian refugees.
“It has treated this influx of Central American asylum seekers as a border problem, rather than a humanitarian problem,” Chen told CBS News. “And now it is doubling down on a failed policy of treating asylum seekers as illegal border-crossers rather than providing them with humanitarian protection.”
Others have criticized the Obama administration’s handling of these people as illegal immigrants rather than refugees or asylum-seekers. According to CBS News, many of the families apprehended when the surge first began in 2014 may not have received adequate information about their rights within the U.S. legal system. Many of those under orders to leave the country received those deportation orders after not appearing for their court dates, which could have been the result of a lack of information or understanding about their rights and responsibilities within the court system.
“They weren’t given clear documents about court dates, they weren’t given clear documents about how to get an attorney or what their rights were,” Michelle Brané, the Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission told CBS News. “It’s not illegal to ask for protection, and we should stop treating them as if we’re violating a law. They’re asserting their international right to protection.”
According to data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, far more of these illegal immigrants may have qualified for asylum than actually received it. An overwhelming 88 percent of the mothers and children detained in the states of Texas and Pennsylvania, for example, demonstrated “credible fear” of returning to their home countries, which could have qualified them for asylum had they fully understood the process.
Some of President Obama’s harshest criticism has come from within his own party, as two Democratic presidental hopefuls have come out strongly against the planned immigration raids and ensuing mass deportation. Bernie Sanders released a statement indicating that he was “very disturbed” by the plan, and Martin O’Malley tweeted the Department of Homeland Security that “raids to round up/deport Central American refugees fleeing death are wrong.”
Our nation has always been a refuge for the oppressed. We need to take steps to protect children and families, not cast them out.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 25, 2015
.@DHSgov holiday plans for raids to round up/deport Central American refugees fleeing death are wrong. We are a better nation than this.
— Martin O’Malley (@MartinOMalley) December 24, 2015
Do you think the Obama administration is right to use ICE to round up and deport these Central American families in unprecedented immigration raids, or should we take another look at whether they actually qualify for asylum?
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]