The recent deportation raids targeting immigrants and refugees from Central America have caused hysteria and panic among immigrant communities.
Rumors have been circulating of immigrant officials taking families from churches and schools thus prompting people not to leave their houses.
While these rumors may not at all be true, they came about after President Barack Obama ordered the deportation of asylum seekers from Central America especially those who have been issued final removal orders by the immigration courts either because their asylum petition was denied or they did not file any at all. However, even as immigration officials say that they mainly target the undocumented, these rounds of deportation clearly has caused fear and panic even to those who have papers and have the right to stay in the United States.
At the start of the year, the first large-scale effort by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to deport families who fled the violence caused by gangs and drug syndicates in Central America rounded up 121 individuals. They now fear that they will be separated from their loved ones and taken from places that they now consider as homes as deportations continue.
ICE agents have reportedly rounded up houses at wee hours in the morning, only giving about five minutes for fathers, mothers and children to gather their belongings before they were made to board ICE vehicles.
Over 150 members of Congress, and many human rights advocates and immigration lawyers have expressed their concern over what has happened.
Immigrant advocates argue that those migrants should be treated as refugees with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), not illegal immigrants. The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely like in cases of ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war), an environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic and other extraordinary and temporary conditions.
During a designated period, individuals who are TPS beneficiaries or who are found preliminarily eligible for TPS upon initial review of their cases are not removable from the United States, many obtain an employment authorization document (EAD) and may be granted travel authorization.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) condemned the raids and called it an unconscionable move against the vulnerable populations and something that essentially abrogates our legal obligations to provide protection to refugees.
“Our laws protect asylum seekers crossing the border from being prosecuted for illegal entry, but the government refuses to acknowledge that these mothers and children have fled from uncontrollable violence and need asylum protection,” said AILA President Victor Nieblas Pradis.
The United States is obliged to recognize valid claims for asylum under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. This obligation was codified and expanded with the passing of the Refugee Act by the United States Congress.
The lack of transparency and due process in these recent raids was also underscored by Pradis saying “since these plans came to light, AILA and its partners have been pleading with the administration to be more transparent about how it will conduct the raids and to work with us to ensure that no one is wrongly deported.”
“Traumatized families who may not have access to legal counsel or understand their rights and responsibilities under our nation’s asylum laws could be sent to their deaths.”