The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started 2016 by storming homes in the early morning hours to detain immigrant families for deportation. DHS claims the action was an explicit effort to deter families from illegally crossing the southern border of the United States, while immigration rights groups contend the government is sending people back to “life-threatening conditions in their home countries.”
News reports indicate young children were detained during the raids, and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced the agency had detained 121 people. The actions took place primarily in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, and prisoners were taken to residential detention centers in southern Texas, where they are “now in the process of being repatriated.”
Johnson said in a statement his office targeted families facing orders for removal from immigration judges and have “exhausted appropriate legal remedies.” The enforcement action appears to be the first of its kind to specifically target families instead of individuals. Secretary Johnson confirmed this focus, writing:
This past weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children. This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.
Johnson also acknowledged the spike in unaccompanied minors at the border in recent months, a fact that underscores the desperate lengths to which families are going to get their children to relative safety in the United States.
The decision to stay the course with detention and deportations represent a choice to treat the border crossings as a crime wave instead of a refugee crisis.
The American Immigration Council and American Immigration Lawyers Association have demanded a meeting with Johnson to express concerns about the deportation of families.
“These actions are a waste of enforcement resources, raise serious concerns about violations of due process, and foment fear within immigrant communities,” the two organizations wrote in a letter to Johnson.
The organizations added, “Since 2014, DHS has used expedited removal and other rapid procedures against these Central American families that have undermined their meaningful opportunity to express fear and to seek asylum. Now DHS has employed heavy-handed raid tactics that impose even greater barriers to humanitarian relief.”
It is practically an American tradition to criminalize people, who are in desperate need of help, by expending immense resources to punish and marginalize them rather than actual confront the violence, poverty, etc. they face. And just as they always have, these harmful and ineffective policies have done nothing if not traumatize those people in crisis. That’s how we ended up with the largest population of incarcerated people in the world.
According to DHS, a “messaging campaign in Central America, Mexico, and the United States to educate those considering making the journey north” is being expanded. The “campaign” targets families with information designed to discourage them from fleeing to the U.S. and highlights raids against families.
Refugees, or asylum seekers, are acutely aware of the risk of detention and deportation by the United States, just as they are aware they may be tortured or killed if they are repatriated. They are willing to take on that risk of detention or deportation if they might find safety somewhere in the U.S.
When will the U.S. accept that deportation, detention and messaging campaigns mean little to people immersed in danger and suffering at home?