Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan
January 4, 2016
Immigration agents over the weekend took 121 individuals into custody, mainly adults with children, to show that the U.S. is determined to crack down on Central Americans crossing the southwest border, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday.
Mr. Johnson said in a statement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, had conducted sweeps mainly in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, as part of a national clampdown.
He said agents targeted those in the U.S. who have evaded a removal order, which is issued by an immigration judge. Mr. Johnson said the operations should come as no surprise, because he had said recently that those who are a priority would be deported.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children,” he said, adding that the operations “will continue to occur as appropriate.”
After a lull during much of 2015, the number of women with children and unaccompanied minors showing up at the border began to rise late in the year, primarily due to gang-related violence in El Salvador and Honduras.
Usually the migrants turn themselves in and make asylum claims. U.S. authorities then release them, often to live with family already here, while their cases are adjudicated. Agents can track them down with relative ease because they have their addresses.
Mr. Johnson said that since the summer of 2014, when the influx of families and children peaked, the U.S. has repatriated migrants to Central America at the rate of 14 flights a week. However, most of those have been single adults, he said.
Critics said the government’s operations contradicted its stated goal of focusing on criminals.
Given the government’s limited resources, “rounding up women and children who have been preyed upon by gangs should not be a priority. They should focus on people here illegally who are a danger to society,” said Carl Shusterman, an attorney who formerly worked as a prosecutor for the immigration service.
Guatemala and El Salvador over the weekend tweeted advisories in Spanish to their citizens about the operations. The Guatemalan government recommended that those affected ask for warrants signed by a judge before they open the door to ICE agents.
Robert Zuniga, a Charlotte, N.C., immigration attorney, said that a mother and daughter, his clients who had been fighting in court to stay in the U.S., were among those targeted.
“The mother’s extended family refused ICE entry into their home, but ICE proceeded to slam on the door before eventually giving up,” he said. “The entire family, even the ones not sought in the raid, literally abandoned the house.”
In fiscal year 2015, the number of apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol—an indicator of attempts to cross into the U.S. illegally—totaled 331,333. With the exception of one year, it was the lowest number of apprehensions on the southwest border since 1972.
In recent months, however, the number of apprehensions has begun to climb.
Mr. Johnson said the U.S. will expand a campaign to educate those considering making the dangerous journey north, which is often led by paid smugglers. The messaging will highlight the recent enforcement operations, he said.
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