Immigration activists condemn US deportation of asylum seekers

Obama administration accused of spreading fear and rage in weekend raids that ensure deportation of 121 people, most of whom fled violence in Central America

Immigration activists accused the Obama administration on Monday of spreading anxiety and fury after a weekend of raids that assured 121 immigrants comprehended across the country for deportation.

Pro-migrant groups said the operation, which mostly targeted Central Americans fleeing violence who were refused US asylum, would drive undocumented immigrants deeper underground and stoked rancour towards a chairman often mocked as the deporter-in-chief.

But the Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, strongly defended the move in a statement: As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.

Johnson and other officials said those detained were mostly migrants who had crossed the southern perimeter illegally after 1 May 2014 and were subject to final orders of removal from an immigration tribunal. Raids in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas accounted for the majority of those now in custody, though Johnson characterized them as part of concerted, nationwide enforcement operations.

While harsh and, at times, inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants has emerged on the 2016 presidential campaign trail, a senior administration official said the raids had nothing to do with the caterwaulings of any member of the political class.

Instead, the official said, the action reflected a longstanding reaction to the increase in Central American families and unaccompanied children attempting to cross the US-Mexico border.

Abraham Espinosa of FIEL, a Houston-based immigrant rights group, said there was a little bit of a panic among migrants when news of the schemed round-up emerged shortly before Christmas. A raid on a tortilla factory in Houston last August had already added to concerns, he said: You never know where they could strike.

Espinosa added that undocumented immigrants become increasingly worried about coming into contact with authorities, especially in rural and suburban parts of Texas where there is a perception that law enforcement officers are more likely to turn them over to immigration policemen. A plenty of them dont even want to leave the house at this point, he said.

Some migrants legally applying for benefits such as the DACA programme were worried about household details lest they be used in a deportation drive, he said, while he had at least two people ask me if they should continue to file taxes because of this.

The majority of households imprisoned are expected to be taken to the Dilley family detention centre near San Antonio, for processing to be deported, according to Mohammad Abdollahi, a spokesman for Raices, a Texas-based immigrant advocacy group.

Ahead of the operation, United We Dream, a youth immigrant organisation, urged people to know their rights and relaunched its telephone hotline for people to report Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity in their cities. It has received hundreds of bellows, said Greisa Martinez, the groups advocacy director.

I had to have a conversation with my mommy, who is undocumented, and my sisters, about what to do if an ICE agent came during the holidays, Martinez said. Its a conversation that has been recurred millions of periods[ across the US] people coming in the middle of the night and snatching family members from their beds is the worst.

Representatives from the #Not1More Deportation campaign, a group that coordinates grassroots efforts to protest ICE raids, said advocacy groups around the country would hold press conferences the coming week to seek public supporting. In their hometown of Chicago, they will also go door-to-door in Central American communities to alerting residents to all available legal resources.

Fair Immigration Reform Movement has called on activist groups from around the country to gather in Washington on Friday for a scheduled protest outside the White House in the morning and a vigil at the US supreme court at 5pm.

Since the large-scale expulsion endeavor was first announced in late December, #Not1More has been reaching out to lawmakers to rally political opposition to the move as well. At the same hour, they and other immigrant rights groups have criticised Obama for what they see as a capitulation to conservatives like Donald Trump.

This is the problem when we let the farthest people to the right define the debate, said Tania Unzueta, #Not1Mores spokeswoman. While people were so angry about Trump building racist statements, we were dismissing the stuff happening under the Democrats and under the Obama administration.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest denied that the political climate sparked the action. The Department of Homeland Security has prioritised cases of recent arrivals, individuals who recently intersected the border into the United States without proper documentation, he said. Those were the nature of the operations carried out over the last several days.

They were consistent with executive actions announced a year ago, Earnest added: The enforcement priorities that have been laid out by the administration are to target offenders not families and to target recent perimeter crossers I can assure you that politics did not taken into account in these important decisions.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association( AILA ), which represents more than 14,000 attorneys and law profs, was critical of Johnsons claim that the raids were consistent with our laws and values.

Since when have American values had anything to do with raiding homes to pick up women and young children and further traumatizing them? said AILA advocacy director Greg Chen. DHS needs to stop calling these families lawbreakers and start treating them with the kind of care and compassion America has always given to those fleeing persecution and violence.

Chen noted that in order to successfully win their asylum cases, most detainees need legal representation. Yet as the refugee crisis in Central America has surged, organisations providing such aid have become overwhelmed.

A 2015 report from Stanford Law School found that approximately two-thirds of immigrant detainees do not receive any legal counsel. In addition to suffering trauma from the arrest, they often enter tribunal with a language barrier and a absence knowledge regarding the US asylum system. As a outcome, in the Stanford survey sample, detainees without attorney persisted merely 7% of the time, while those with lawyers persisted 27% of the time.

Despite the surge in unaccompanied children and families intersecting the border since last year, Espinosa, the proponent in Houston, pointed out that the number of unauthorised immigrants in the US has decreased during Obamas tenure.

If the message is for people to stop coming here, theyre get that across pretty well, he said.

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