Obama's Deportation Raids Are Horrific

by Michael Sean Winters

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“Happy New Year!” we all wish each other when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. The next day, while walking my dogs, I exchanged the same wish with my neighbors. But, for hundreds of refugees to this country, the new year has been horrific, not happy, and the fault lies exclusively with the Obama administration.

Officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement began a series of raids on families subject to deportation in the first weeks of this year. They have specifically targeted families that have fled the violence in Central America, families that the administration continues to refuse to recognize as refugees. Why someone fleeing violence in Syria can be classified as a refugee but someone fleeing the violence in Honduras or El Salvador is not so classified is a question the administration is not willing to ask or answer.

The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project is a partnership of immigration rights groups, including the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), and they have been doing all they can to assist the families subjected to these raids. The group was able to locate 13 families that had been rounded up by ICE officials, and determined that 12 of the 13 cases involve families with “meritorious claims for protection” and have not yet exhausted all legal avenues open to them. The CARA group reported that ICE interfered with their efforts to reach the families. Some of the families were not aware of these alternate legal avenues and, indeed, said that they did not understand the entire process. They were merely terrified for their lives. 

As well they should be. One case involves a mother of four, the youngest of whom is three years old, who is from El Salvador. She fled that country after a gang took over her children’s school, came to America, and is staying with family. At her initial court hearing, no one told her she could apply for asylum. She retained an attorney to file an asylum application, but the lawyer never did so. A judge issued a removal order against her, and no one told her she could appeal this ruling. Agents appeared at her home on the morning of January 3, told her they were going to check her ankle monitoring device, but in fact took her and her children to an ICE facility, denied her request to call her lawyer, and sent her off to Dilley, Texas where she awaits deportation. The CARA project lawyers have gained a stay of the deportation order.

Another case involved a woman from El Salvador, who had been subject to repeated domestic abuse, and her two children, one of whom has serious medical problems and was scheduled for treatment in February. The woman also is prone to seizures. The woman obtained a stay of her removal order, and was checking in regularly with ICE officials on the date they requested. Then, on January 2, two days before her next scheduled check in date, ICE officials appeared at her home. They said they were going to take her to the office to check her papers. Once there, they told her she was being deported, and she had a seizure. After she was discharged from the hospital, she was also sent to Dilley, where she is awaiting deportation. The CARA project lawyers have secured a stay in proceedings against her.

Do these stories frighten you as much as they frighten me? Is this how America operates, sending armed agents to people’s homes, terrifying their families, even when those people had been complying with previous requests from ICE? I was reading these accounts and kept wondering when we were going to get to the bit about the beer hall putsch.

In talking with immigration advocates yesterday, I learned that schools are reporting that Latino children are not showing up for classes because they are afraid of being deported. I can only imagine the fear these raids spread in the immigrant community. And, of course, that fear pales to the actual harm being done to the families targeted by these raids. Which, in turn, pales to the fear that will envelop them if they ever get back to El Salvador or Honduras.

Why is President Obama doing this? Does he think he needs to look tough on immigration? And, let’s be clear: The angry, anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the Republicans is repugnant and scary, but not nearly as frightening to immigrant families as these raids are. The President should stop these raids immediately. If they are worried about more families coming across the border, maybe the administration should think about what it can do to help bring peace to Central America. Maybe it should work with churches to help settle these families and give them a new start in life. They pose no threat to national security. They should be objects of compassion, not objects of ICE raids.


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