Mistakes Matter

There are serious concerns over the immigration raids currently taking place

There Are Serious Concerns Over The Immigration Raids Currently Taking Place

Over the weekend, at least 121 people from immigrant families across the country were reportedly detained, marking the beginning of an effort to deport Central American families who have entered the United States seeking protection since May 1, 2014. The effort, led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is intended to target only adults and children who have previously been ordered to be removed by an immigration judge either because their asylum claim was denied or they missed immigration court proceedings. The Administration can and should act to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. But this weekend’s actions have raised serious concerns about the way the raids are taking place, who is being detained, and why.

More than 100,000 families have crossed the southwest border since the start of 2014. The families that are the purported target of these raids are refugees fleeing Central American countries embroiled in some of the worst violence in the world. And the United States is not the only country refugees are fleeing to. Between 2008 and 2014, asylum claims from the so-called “Northern Triangle” at the heart of violence in Central America went up 1,185 percent in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize combined, according to a report by the United Nations refugee agency. Another U.N. report interviewed 160 women who fled the area: every single one said they came to the U.S. seeking protections from violence and violence against women that they couldn’t find in their home countries. There is plenty more evidence to back up this extreme violence against women: the U.S. Department of State found the conviction rate for femicide in Guatemala was a mere 1-2 percent and that “sexual assault, torture, and mutilation were evident” in most killings.

The new enforcement raids are supposed to target families who have been issued final orders of removal, have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum. But reports of the recent raids have raised suspicions about the legal process used to justify detention and whether detained families have full access to due process. The L.A. Times reported a troubling example from Georgia: Lizet Mejia and her son, who fled Honduras when Mejia’s brother was killed by gangs, were taken by ICE agents after the agents showed up at her aunt Joanna Gutierrez’s house and presented a warrant for a man Gutierrez did not know. Gutierrez said the agents denied her request to see a warrant and searched every room in her house, despite the fact that Mejia had never missed a court date and had cooperated with the courts.

There is significant concern more broadly that unauthorized immigrants do not have adequate access to legal counsel and therefore may not have access to due process. One report on due process for women with children in immigration proceedings uncovered that more than 73 percent of families, like those being targeted in the raids, do not have an attorney. Furthermore, some deportations are being ordered without families even appearing in court: some families have allegedly been given “Notices to Appear” in court, but if they don’t receive the notice in the mail or if it was sent to the wrong address, then their deportations could be ordered “in absentia,” meaning the families never have the chance to make the case for why they should be able to stay in the U.S.
In addition to legal concerns, the methods by which ICE is conducting these detentions raise concerns about community safety. Not only is forcibly entering someone’s home without a warrant a violation of privacy, it also has broader implications for the Latinos, Asians, and other communities broadly. Deportation strategies like the recent raids threaten to tear families apart and erode trust in police, making the immigrant community much less likely to come forward to report other serious crimes.

There is a final reason why we should be doing everything we can to ensure the utmost care before deporting unauthorized immigrant families: mistakes can be fatal. A 2015 Guardian report found that as many as 83 U.S. deportees were murdered upon returning to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras since January 2014, some within days of their arrival.

The Obama administration has been bold in speaking out against the angry rhetoric and misinformation about Syrian refugees escaping war and persecution in the Middle East. It should recognize that families fleeing Central America face similar violence and danger. President Obama hinted at such at the December naturalization ceremony where he referred to kids fleeing gangs as refugees — one of the first such admissions from the President. The administration must be committed to investing time and resources toward a broader regional solution that ameliorates the poverty and violence in Central America. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that much in a statement today. Fixing the conditions forcing children and families out of Central America must be paramount, rather than seeking to deter future entrants. Until then, given the due process concerns, each family that is detained in these raids must have the ability to have their case reviewed by an attorney to ensure that they have adequately made their claims for protection prior to any final action.

BOTTOM LINE: The Obama Administration has the right and responsibility to enforce immigration laws. But America is a country built on immigrants and refugees, and mistakes can be a matter of life and death. Without ensuring due process, we run the risk of wrongfully sending innocent families seeking asylum back into the heart of violence they fled in the first place. That is not the American way.

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