The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is gearing up for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who crossed the border from Central America since the beginning of last year, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
The nationwide sweep, a controversial proposal which comes after months of discussion within the Obama administration, would begin as early as January, the Post reports. Since 2014, more than 100,000 families have fled Central America due to violence, poverty, and a growing drought—a figure which does not include the separate influx of unaccompanied minors that also briefly caught national attention.
The Post's Jerry Markon and David Nakamura write:
The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge, according to officials familiar with the undertaking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because planning is ongoing and the operation has not been given final approval by DHS. The adults and children would be detained wherever they can be found and immediately deported. The number targeted is expected to be in the hundreds and possibly greater.
According to sources familiar with the operation, DHS director Jeh Johnson pushed for the deportation sweep despite growing violence in countries like El Salvador, where the homicide rate has hit a generational peak. The push comes in part from a recent court ruling that DHS should start releasing migrant families being held in detention centers. A recent series of hunger strikes and other actions throughout the country have highlighted inhumane conditions at facilities in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Washington state.
Immigration advocates, who have been urging the administration to treat the migrants as refugees, were not informed of the raid plans.
Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Post on Wednesday, "It would be an outrage if the administration subjected Central American families to even more aggressive enforcement tactics. This administration has never acknowledged the truth: that these families are refugees seeking asylum who should be given humanitarian protection rather than being detained or rounded up.
"When other countries are welcoming far more refugees, the U.S. should be ashamed for using jails and even contemplating large-scale deportation tactics," Chen said.
Frank Sharry, an immigration advocate with America's Voice, noted to the Post's opinion blogger Greg Sargent on Thursday that the raids may also figure into the 2016 election, as advocates are likely to pressure presidential hopefuls to denounce the plans. For an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton, that would mean a choice between breaking with President Barack Obama or turning her back on migrants.
"This will be a political nightmare for the Democrats," Sharry said.