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LAWG Demands Protections, Not Deportations for Central American Refugees

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Last week, LAWG joined over 150 organizations in denouncing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) nationwide raids targeting Central American families for deportation and urging President Obama to offer greater protection for the women, men, and children fleeing violence. Despite this opposition, today, January 4th, DHS confirmed that these raids began over the weekend in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina, resulting in the arrests of 121 individuals, who are currently in the process of arriving at South Texas family detention centers and being deported to their home countries.

First leaked by the Washington Post on December 23rd in the midst of the holiday season, the raids are meant to target adults and children who had been apprehended after May 2014 and who had pending deportation orders from immigration judges. The raids form a part of guidelines established by DHS in a November 2014 memo which identified convicted criminals and threats to public safety as the highest priorities for immigration enforcement.

Daniella - Immigration Protest at White House-1March and Press Conference Against Planned Raids in front of the White House on December 30, 2015. Photo credit: Daniella Burgi-Palomino

An alarming statement released today by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that the raids were consistent with “decency, fairness, and humanity” that precautions had been taken with regard to families and children, and that additional enforcement operations such as these would “continue to occur as appropriate” under his direction. The statements defending the raids further affirmed that DHS would continue to increase border security, expand its cooperation with Mexico on immigration enforcement, and appeal the Flores federal court ruling ordering the release of children, including toddlers and infants from detention centers.

“The way in which DHS is implementing its immigration enforcement priorities through these raids is anything but decent, fair, and humane. These families have serious protection needs that the U.S. should be responding to instead of returning them to danger and possible death sentences. We will continue to call for an end to the planned raids. We strongly urge the Obama administration to end this strategy and begin providing the families and children with legal counsel and asylum in a way that is actually in line with our values,” states Daniella Burgi-Palomino, LAWG’s Senior Associate on Mexico, the border and migrants’ rights issues.

 Daniella - Immigration Protest at White House-2
Children hold a protest sign outside of the White House on December 30, 2015. Photo Credit: Daniella Burgi-Palomino

First-hand accounts of the raids this weekend demonstrate violent and inhumane tactics by DHS´s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in arresting Central American families and children. Local immigrant rights organizations documented cases of ICE agents arriving at 5am in communities in the Atlanta, Georgia area storming into homes and ignoring questions about required search warrants to wake up mothers and children as young as four years old. One of the migrants arrested in Georgia included 30-year-old Ana Liceth Mejía and her 9-year-old son who had arrived in the U.S. requesting asylum in mid-2014 after the assassination of her brother and threats to her own life in Honduras. Ana Liceth wore an ICE ankle bracelet and reported to an immigration court every 15 days. After an immigration judge had denied her asylum case, she was ordered to be deported on January 5th.

LAWG has documented the stories of Central American asylum-seekers and refugees similar to those of Ana Liceth’s and confirmed the existing high levels of violence, corruption, and impunity in Central America that give migrants few safe options besides leaving their homes. We demand an end to the planned deportation raids and calls for the implementation of protection mechanisms and legal counsel for families and children to ensure that they have a chance of having their asylum claims heard and responded to. Until then, policies of deterrence and the increase of militarized enforcement operations that violate migrants’ rights will continue to fail to address the roots of this migration and instead will only place migrants’ lives directly in danger.