New York Times
By Julia Preston
January 4, 2016
Federal immigration enforcement agents last weekend arrested 121 migrants for deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday, starting a wave of removals of parents and children, mainly from Central America, who came during the border surge in 2014 and failed to win asylum in immigration courts.
Most of the arrests were in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, officials said, and were of migrants who had lost their cases and were ordered deported by immigration judges. The deportations are part of “concerted nationwide enforcement operations” to achieve a “greater rate” of deportation of parents who crossed the border illegally with their children, Mr. Johnson said.
Obama administration officials are scrambling to stem a new influx of people crossing the South Texas border since July, many of whom are families or children without their parents, often fleeing rampant gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The administration wants to send a stronger message to the region that many migrants crossing illegally, even mothers and children, will be sent home.
“Our borders are not open to illegal migration,” Mr. Johnson said.
The deportations have provoked outrage from immigrant and Latino groups, just when they had been organizing support for President Obama because of his efforts to provide protections for immigrants already living in the country illegally, which have been held up by federal courts.
Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a coalition of advocates, said the deportations were “not safe or sustainable.” He added, “It is faulty logic for the Department of Homeland Security to believe that if they deport people fleeing violence back to violence, others will never come to the U.S.”
But Homeland Security officials said they were focused on avoiding the larger backlash that could develop in border states and in Washington, as well as in the presidential nominating races if there is another chaotic influx like the one in the summer of 2014.
Officials said they ordered the deportations after reviewing results from immigration courts, where many Central American families who came in 2014 are coming to the end of their cases. According to court figures, as of Nov. 24, judges had decided 905 cases of parents with their children who were caught at the southwest border and held at one of three special detention centers for families.
In those cases, 80 percent — or 726 cases — ended with migrants ordered deported. In 67 percent of those deportation cases, judges issued the orders in absentia because the migrants did not appear for their hearings. Migrants were allowed to remain in only 156 cases.
Those outcomes contrast with where the cases started, especially for many mothers who fled from Central America with their children. More than 80 percent of women held at the family detention centers passed an initial interview with an asylum officer to determine if their fears of being sent back home were credible, according to the most recent figures. Mothers at the centers said they fled because gangs had murdered their husbands or siblings, tried to recruit their sons or threatened sexual violence against their daughters.
Despite efforts by volunteer lawyers to help families seeking asylum, court statistics show that many of them fought those claims without legal advice. Women who were represented by lawyers throughout their proceedings did appear in court and won asylum most of the time, according to Stephen Manning, a lawyer who helped organize legal assistance from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Cecillia Wang, the director of the immigrants’ rights project for the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “Many of these mothers and children had no lawyers because they could not afford them. Without counsel, traumatized refugees don’t understand what is happening in court and cannot get their legitimate asylum claims heard.”
Since news of the raids first leaked in late December, immigrant organizations advised people to report any deportations, and offered sessions on steps migrants should take if they were arrested.
“We are putting the White House, D.H.S. and Congress on notice that our community will energetically mobilize to oppose this obscene and inhumane plan,” said Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
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