Above, Flight into Egypt by Jacopo Bassano (1545) Norton Simon Museum
The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.
The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors…
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has been pushing for the moves, according to those with knowledge of the debate, in part because of a new spike in the number of illegal immigrants in recent months. Experts say that the violence that was a key factor in driving people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. A drought in the region has also prompted departures.
“Jeh Johnson wants to send a message to Central Americans: don’t come north. But Washington hasn’t solved the underlying problem of massive violence in their home countries that is causing them to come north in the first place,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney in Anchorage.
Though illegal entries overall have dropped sharply in recent years, the Obama administration has been bracing for a surge of unaccompanied children and families from Central America in coming months. In recent weeks, it had begun to add capacity to handle the increase, because migrants are housed at least temporarily in government facilities.
More than 12,000 individuals in so-called family units were apprehended at the border in October and November, compared with about 4,500 in the same months last year.
The number of unaccompanied minors caught during those two months topped 10,000, compared with about 5,000 in the same period last year.
El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Gang-related violence in El Salvador brought its homicide rate to ninety per hundred thousand in 2015, making it the most world’s most violent country not at war. All three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Extortion is also rampant. A July 2015 investigation by Honduran newspaper La Prensa found that Salvadorans and Hondurans pay an estimated $390 million and $200 million, respectively, in annual extortion fees to organized crime groups; meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities said in 2014 that citizens pay an estimated $61 million a year in extortion fees. Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods, according to the report, and attacks on people who do not pay contributes to the violence…
The nature of the violence is distinct in each country, but there are common threads: the proliferation of gangs, the region’s use as a transshipment point for U.S.-bound narcotics, and high rates of impunity are major factors contributing to insecurity in the region.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, during FY2015 (through September 30):
Overall, the Department apprehended 406,595 individuals nationwide and conducted a total of 462,463 removals and returns. The U.S. Border Patrol reported 337,117 apprehensions nationwide, compared to 486,651 in FY 2014. At the same time, ICE removed or returned 235,413 individuals in FY 2015, with 86 percent of these individuals considered a “top priority” (Priority One) – those considered border security or public safety threats.