This month, the Obama administration began an aggressive immigration operation targeting Central American asylum seekers for detainment and deportation. On the first weekend of the New Year, at a time when many were spending time with their loved ones for the holidays, at least 121 individuals primarily from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina were taken into custody during a series of raids that immigration advocates are condemning as cruel and unconstitutional. Advocacy groups have received numerous reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials breaking down doors, deceiving immigrants into letting them enter homes without warrants, and detaining children as young as four years old.
Most of the victims of these raids have been families, often women and children, and many have recent or pending asylum claims. “Our interviews revealed that these families have bona fide asylum claims, but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court,” Katie Shepherd, managing attorney for the CARA Project, said in a press statement. “It’s beyond shameful that these families, who risked everything to seek protection in the United States, were being forcibly returned to the violence and turmoil they fled in Central America.” Despite President Obama’s executive action on DAPA, which provides deferred action status for some undocumented immigrants and will be considered at the Supreme Court later this year, the Obama administration continues to deport the greatest number of immigrants of any president in history. Immigrant rights advocates, including several Overbrook grantees, are challenging him to stop separating families, to do better for all immigrants and to halt this round of raids.
Repatriated families who were seeking refuge from violence may face an even greater risk to their lives than when they left, as the situation in Central America has been steadily deteriorating since 2014. These families may return to gang threats, gender violence, and other forms of persecution. For immigrant families in cities that have not been targeted by ICE raids, the fear of being next is palpable. Cities and neighborhoods with large Latino communities across the country are reporting decreased school and work attendance as immigrants try to remain indoors. Legal organizations and allied officials are encouraging immigrants continue go about daily activities, but to know their rights as these raids continue.