Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Family Deportation Raids: Too Tough, or Not Enough?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Family Deportation Raids: Too Tough, or Not Enough?

Article excerpt

Raids criticized sharply by multiple sides of the immigration debate began this weekend, as the Department of Homeland Security prepared to deport hundreds of families who illegally entered the United States during dramatic spikes over the past two years, as gang violence and drought drove tens of thousands of Central Americans north.

At least 121 people were taken into custody this weekend, officials said Monday.

"This should come as no surprise," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement. "I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed."

But the 2014 immigration crisis, which had dwindled but then picked up again in late 2015, has proven a challenge for the Obama administration as it seeks to appease both humans rights and immigration advocates and others concerned about border security. Roughly 100,000 families have entered the country since early 2014, mostly coming from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Plans for the raids were leaked in late December to The Washington Post, suggesting dissent within the administration about how to balance security needs with humanitarian concerns.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the president supported the raids, with a focus on deporting "felons, not families," and recent immigrants who entered the United States illegally.

"Certainly, people should take from this the understanding that the administration is quite serious about enforcing our immigration laws," Mr. Earnest said.

Yet the raids are targeting illegal immigrants, many of them families, whose asylum claims have been rejected by immigration courts. Deportations for single adults increased as early as the summer of 2014, as the number of families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border soared.

In the last months of 2015, those numbers picked up once more: 12,500 families and 10,588 unaccompanied children were apprehended in October and November, twice the number from 2014. Typically, immigration slows during the fall as colder weather approaches.

As immigration officials struggled to deal with the inflow, many were released and told to appear later for asylum hearings. Others were sent to family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania, which still hold around 1,700.

But reports of unsafe conditions have pressured the administration to release families, and in August, a federal judge ruled that Homeland Security had violated a decree to treat minors in custody humanely and give them a prompt hearing, and ordered the centers to begin releasing families and unaccompanied children.

President Obama sought to prevent the deportation of 5 million illegal immigrants via executive action in November 2014, but was blocked by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. …

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