The Obama administration began a series of large-scale raids targeting women and children fleeing violence in Central America.
Statistics show more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants have arrived in the country from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in the last two years. Experts confirm that while the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t announced any other raids, the process continues.
“The enforcement operation has proven controversial on all sides, criticized by immigrant rights leaders for tearing families apart. Conversely, it’s been criticized by conservatives for not going far enough,” said Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and senior fellow of Migration Policy Institute.
In theory, the U.S. has legal authority to take these actions, justifying them by saying all who were picked up in the raids have exhausted all legal options in the immigration courts and failed to make a case for refugee protection. As such, they become a priority for deportation. However, raids have raised significant concerns among advocates.
“First and foremost is the question of due process by the government’s own admission, less than half of all of those picked up in the raids had counsel in their immigration proceedings, something that we know is critical to actually winning your case and being able to stay in the country,” said Philip E. Wolgin, managing director for the immigration policy team at Center for American Progress.
“Imagine, for example, a 5-year old child trying to make a case for why he or she should be allowed to stay in the U.S. on their own, while a trained government attorney argues against them. That’s how our system works.”
The Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group, stated that for many “the conditions upon arrival are worse than those that compelled them to leave in the first place.” The International Organization for Migration has set up reception centers to receive the returning children, and the U.S. has been increasing its development aid to help in resettlement.
“The Center for American Progress has called for a halt to the raids,” Wolgin added. “They spread fear across the country. We’ve heard reports of children not going to school and families not showing up for appointments at health clinics because they are terrified of what could happen if they go out in public.”
The governmental actions also come in the middle of a presidential election campaign in which the Republican Party front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, have called for a massive deportation of all the nearly 11 million unauthorized migrants living in the U.S. The Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, favor legalization and the expanded use of presidential power to allow the refugees and others to remain. Experts think that immigration issues could impact the presidential results.
“That platform should help the Democrats with the growing number of Latino and other immigrant voters. Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained. "However, anger at the president over the recent raids could dampen their enthusiasm.”
- By Dmitry Belyaev