The Obama administration is determined to continue its deportation campaign, despite calls to halt raids and provide temporary protections.
Operation Border Guardian
In a statement from U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency conducted additional “enforcement actions” at his discretion in late January. The raids were known as “Operation Border Guardian.”
According to Johnson, ICE has apprehended 336 individuals since Jan. 23. He explained the focus of the apprehensions was to target immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization after Jan. 1, 2014, and who were over 18 years old. The DHS secretary added that the immigrants were targeted only after specific instructions for removal by an immigration court, and they had no pending appeal or asylum claim.
Johnson noted the apprehensions did not and won’t occur in places of worship, schools, hospitals or “sensitive” locations unless in emergency circumstances.
Johnson said the apprehensions are an effort to enforce U.S. immigration laws and touted ICE repatriating more than 28,800 people back to Central America since Oct. 1, 2015. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), another DHS agency, has also repatriated or returned nearly 128,000 people to Mexico. Since last October, the Obama administration has arranged 290 deportation flights to Central America, and DHS is working with Mexico’s government to increase the weekly number of removal flights from two to three.
“As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration. If someone was apprehended at the border, has been ordered removed by an immigration court, has no pending appeal, and does not qualify for asylum or other relief from removal under our laws, he or she must be sent home. We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities,” Johnson said in a statement.
But the DHS isn’t working to simply deport immigrants. Johnson said he’s been working with the Department of Justice on ensuring unaccompanied undocumented immigrant children have appropriate representation during immigration court proceedings. Johnson acknowledged he requested more than $17 million in President Barack Obama’s 2017 fiscal year budget for legal counsel services.
Calls for Temporary Protections
Since the Obama administration began deportation raids following New Year’s Day, Latinos, policymakers and immigrant rights groups have called on Obama and Johnson to grant temporary protection status (TPS) to immigrants who would otherwise be deported from the U.S.
A coalition of immigrant, social justice and faith groups delivered a petition addressed to Obama to halt further deportation raids and provide relief to Central American refugee families. According to a statement sent to Latin Post in February, the White House received a petition with more than 130,000 signatures and a letter on behalf of over 75 organizations, including the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), Presente.org, America’s Voice and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC).
The United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an independent and bipartisan federal agency, has also called on the administration to cease the raids, stating many of the immigrants involved have had their due process rights violated.
In January, 22 U.S. senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, urged the administration to end the raids, stating the immigrants risk violence and even death if returned to Central America.
Johnson recognized the calls for protections. He said the DHS is working on expanding the Refugee Admissions Program to help vulnerable men, women and children in Central America.
“In partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations in the region, we have taken preliminary steps to ensure we are able to implement this new program as soon as possible. This approach builds on our recently established Central American Minors program, which is now providing an in-country refugee processing option for certain children with parents in the United States, as well as the existing asylum process; to date, the State Department has received 7,606 applications for this Program,” Johnson said.
“Again, our policy is clear: We will continue to enforce the immigration laws and secure our borders consistent with our priorities and values. At the same time, we will offer vulnerable populations in Central America an alternate, safe and legal path to a better life.”