As signaled before Christmas, the Department of Homeland Security has begun a focused effort to deport Central Americans who have arrived in the United States since May 1, 2014. On January 4, the Department released a statement explaining this action.
Federal immigration authorities apprehended 121 adults and children in raids over the New Year’s weekend as part of a nationwide operation to deport a new wave of illegal immigrants.
The families taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were living in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, [DHS Secretary] Johnson said in a statement. They are being held temporarily in federal detention centers before being deported to Central America…
The raids were the first in a broad operation by the Obama administration that is targeting for deportation hundreds of families that have crossed the southern border illegally since the start of last year.
The Northern Triangle of Central America — Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala — n recent years has suffered serious and increasing violence, mostly at the hands of drug cartels serving the US market. In 2014 President Obama took action to facilitate emigrants from the region applying for refugee status. Over 200,000 Salvadorans, for example, have qualified for Temporary Protected Status. (See TPS details.) But during fiscal year 2015 barely 4300 individuals applied for the Central American Minor refugee program, only ninety had begun the DHS interview process, and only eleven had been “conditionally approved” for refugee status. (See more on CAM.)
According to a January 5 report in the Washington Post, El Salvador is now the murder capital of the Western Hemisphere. “The 2015 murder rate of about 104 homicides per 100,000 people, an increase of about 70 percent from the year before, is estimated to be among the highest in the world for countries not at war, far surpassing neighboring Honduras, which had held the title of murder capital in recent years.”
Given the profound risks Central American migrants face in their home countries, many legal experts perceive a significant majority of Central American migrants meet the standards for refugee status under the Immigration and Nationality Act. But given an overburdened immigration court system and lack of legal counsel for migrants, many who are legally (and morally?) qualified for such status are unable to effectively make their claim.
Late Tuesday the Board of Immigration Appeals temporarily halted the deportation of at least twelve of those taken into custody over the weekend. According to the Houston Chronicle, “nearly all of the small pool of immigrants who received legal assistance this week obtained a temporary delay in their deportation show[ing] they are being wrongly removed… many face deportation orders simply because they don’t know they must show up to court or are afraid to or because they lack legal help to navigate the complex asylum process.”
In comments for the Friday Free Forum, Vicki Campbell highlighted the judgment of one migrant advocate, “A year and a half after the President said he wished to make his immigration policy more humane, his agents are rounding up mothers and children with the intent of sending them to likely violence and possible death.”