The Obama administration stumbled and took a lot of heat the last time that it tried to round up and deport immigrant women and children. Now it’s trying again.
Immigration officials are preparing for a 30-day deportation sweep, specifically targeting immigrant families and unaccompanied minors who recently fled from violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America.
The fresh round of raids, first reported Thursday by Reuters, marks the first series of mass deportations since the Obama administration carried out a similar two-day sweep in January. Immigration officials in that operation rounded up 121 immigrants, primarily women and children, in the raids before taking them to a detention center in Texas.
Problems emerged almost immediately. A number of families saw their deportations called off thanks to a last-minute reprieve from the Board of Immigration Review.
The board’s objections with the removals hit at the core of anger and fear from advocates who argue that the administration was moving in haste — many of the women and children up for deportation had legitimate legal grounds to seek asylum or humanitarian relief in the U.S.
The operations mark a clear departure from the heart of the administration's recent approach toward immigration, which has stressed that criminals were a priority for deportation, not families. But the administration has also stressed that it will not accept arrivals who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. The crackdown on immigrant families is in response to the remnants of a surge in migration from Central America in 2014 and hints that a new wave of immigrants may be on the horizon.
In the last major wave, families and unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala maxed out resources at the border, sparking a heated national debate over immigration and border security.
It now appears the administration may be trying to avoid a repeat disaster by using mass deportations as a tool to deter more migration.
U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions have seen a dramatic uptick in illegal border crossings in recent months. Between October 2015 and March 2016, more than 32,000 families were intercepted at the border. That’s more than double the number during the year before.
The Department of Homeland Security has already taken a forceful enforcement approach toward those migrants fleeing conditions of extreme violence and poverty in Central America. News of more raids is likely to reignite public anger over the administration’s deportation policy and stoke fears within the immigrant community.
Advocacy groups on Thursday urged officials to abandon the practice, fighting the tone and tenor of the raids, which involves immigration agents going into the homes of immigrant women and children and carting them away. Mass deportations are seldom carried out on this scale, let alone targeted at a vulnerable population that has grounds for asylum.
"Instead of addressing the terror and civil rights violations the New Year’s raids caused, DHS is spreading them,” Tania Unzueta, legal and policy director for the advocacy group Mijente said in a statement. “The raids show how much of what Donald Trump promises is already occurring under this administration."
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called the raids "callous, tone-deaf and absolutely wrong."
"We call on the Obama administration to halt this nonsense and protect these women and children from further harm should they be deported to their countries of origin," Salas said in a statement. "Right now, these migrants need our nation's protection, not deportation."