U.S. Launches Large-Scale Deportations For Families

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images.
What do you do when Immigration and Customs Enforcement is at your door? It's a very real concern for the 100,000 immigrants who fled Central America for the U.S. in 2014 — and who now face a new large-scale effort by the Department of Homeland Security to arrest and deport them.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that DHS was preparing to launch a series of raids targeting immigrant families. And on Saturday, DHS announced that 121 people had been taken into custody in raid operations across the U.S. in states including North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas.

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

Johnson acknowledged the condemnation of mass deportations for the thousands of families — and unaccompanied minors — who had fled violence in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

But Johnson is firm on DHS' actions. He said, "We must enforce the law consistent with our priorities. At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity."

In response, immigration activists have started mobilizing volunteer groups and free legal aid. They've also started a social media blitz to warn families about the raids and share information about their rights.

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"You have rights that should be respected," says a tweet from a Guatemalan government account. It includes infographics with information about the arrests and deportations, and what to do in the event of being detained. The El Salvador government tweeted out similar information, and asked families to avoid signing any documents.
Nonprofit organization United We Dream posted a helpful guide on its Facebook page for dealing with ICE. Advice includes reporting the raid, not signing papers, remaining silent, and avoiding opening the door if possible — unless authorities can present a warrant.

The group has also set up a hotline that immigrants can call for help (1-844-363-1423).

"The Obama administration is implementing this memorandum, and it's all part of it. It says they will deport anyone who came after Jan. 1, 2014," United We Dream's Carolina Canizales told NBC News. "We are outraged with not just Obama but the entire administration for prioritizing for deportation mothers and children who are fleeing violence."

The Obama administration has already come under fire for its stance on deportations, and its treatment and detainment of asylum seekers — so much so that some activists have labeled President Obama "deporter-in-chief."

But with the president's executive actions on immigration still in legal limbo, the administration has moved forward with more raids and deportations.

According to The Dallas Morning News
, apprehension numbers began to jump in October and November, when 10,600 minors, traveling without parents, were detained, mostly at the Texas border.

Since New Year's Eve, more than 150 organizations have signed a letter asking Obama to offer greater protection to families fleeing Central America, and to halt the deportations.

The letter says, in part, "The United States has always been a beacon of hope for asylum seekers. Over the past several months, you have championed the cause of protecting Syrian refugees when many questioned whether our nation should still be providing them refuge."

It ends by saying, "We ask you to send that same signal now with respect to the families fleeing Central America and to be the same kind of champion for their protection."
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