The Obama administration is planning a new range of raids to deport hundreds of undocumented Central American mothers and children - many of whom fled to the US to escape violence and killing.
Earlier this year, Barack Obama, who has deported more people than any other US president, sparked anger among rights activists when he ordered officials to begin detaining and forcibly deporting hundreds of illegal immigrant families. Most of the raids focused on Georgia, Texas and North Carolina and resulted in the detention of 121 people.
Now it has been reported that immigration officials are planning a month-long series of raids in May and June. Reuters said the sweep would be the largest operation to deport immigrants since January.
Documents seen by the news agency suggest officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have told field offices to launch a 30-day surge of arrests focused on mothers and children who have already been told to leave the United States. The operation would also cover minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age.
The exact dates of the latest series of raids were not known and the details of the operation could change.
The operation in January marked a departure for ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, from one-off deportations to high-profile raids meant to deter migrants from coming to the United States. Many of those entering the US are fleeing violence in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The issue of immigration to the US has become increasingly sensitive as a result of the rhetoric of many of the leading Republican candidates for president. Presumptive candidate Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists and murderers” and has vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexican border if he is elected.
The issue has not just focussed on migrants or refugees from central America. More than 30 US states have said they will do everything they can to block to settlement of the 10,000 or so Syrian refugees the US plans to accommodate.
Yet campaigners point out that for all the noise from Republicans, it is the administration of Mr Obama that has deported more immigrants than any previous
In 2014, it is estimated that more than 200,000 Central Americans tried to emigrate to the United States without documentation. Since coming to office in 2009, Mr Obama’s government has deported more than 2.5m people, up 23 per cent from the administration of George Bush years. He is set to have deported more people than all the presidents who governed between now 1892-2000.
Activists have sought different ways to try and help those without documents.
Hundreds of churches across America have defied the US government and offered support and sanctuary to immigrants who face deportation. Some of them have literally offered a resting space to people, aware that federal agents are unlikely to carry out arrests inside their premises.
Both Democratic presidential candidates, looking to appeal to Hispanic voters, have expressed opposition to the planned raids, with front-runner Hillary Clinton saying they are “not productive and do not reflect who we are as a country”.
“Families fleeing violence in Central America must be given a full opportunity to seek relief,” she said. “And we need to take special care of children.”
Vermont Senator. Bernie Sanders issued a statement calling the raids “painful and inhumane” while asking Mr Obama to give Central American families temporary protective status through an executive order. “Sending these people back into harm’s way is wrong,” he said.
Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for US Immigration Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Independent that the operations were not “raids” and said they were targeted arrests.
She added: “We stress that these operations are limited to those who were apprehended at the border after January 1 2014, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or pending claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws.”
Gren Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the actions of the US government were "shameful". "It's closing asylum doors to people who have escapted terrible violence," he said.
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