On Christmas Eve, news leaked that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was going to begin raids to round up and deport Central American families. Over the holiday week, stakeholders, legislators, community leaders, and advocates pushed back hard on these planned raids and begged the Obama Administration not to move forward.
In spite of that, and without any communication from DHS in response to our efforts, on the first Saturday of the New Year the raids began. Reports surfaced quickly of mothers and children being torn from their homes, terrified of what was happening. Of ICE agents gaining access to homes under questionable circumstances. Of the latest inhumane and deplorable practices to which the federal government has subjected asylum seekers.
From the reports we’ve received so far, these vulnerable families pose no threat to our national security or the integrity of our borders and yet, DHS has called them “enforcement priorities”. It appears DHS is targeting families who, despite language barriers, despite complicated asylum laws, despite every obstacle put in their way, appeared in court to pursue their claims for protection. But, DHS has provided almost no information about their cases or the processes that led to their removal orders – and despite many requests, ICE refuses to cooperate and provide us with this basic information. Instead, moving way too fast, ICE is rushing children and mothers out of this country and back to lives where extremely dangerous conditions will once again be a part of their every-day lives.
I volunteered in Artesia, New Mexico, when that family detention center was in operation. I talked to many women and children about the horrors they had endured and their hopes for a brighter future. The overwhelming majority of these families pass the credible fear interview and are legitimate asylum seekers. But if they don’t have counsel, their chances of being granted protection plummet.
With these raids, the federal government is shipping families down to the South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas, for processing prior to deportation. Fortunately, the CARA Project, which has been a constant presence at the detention center since March of 2015, has a team of volunteers on site week in and week out. In order to ensure that full due process protections are afforded to these families, ICE should make sure that before they are deported, before they are sent back to danger and possible torture or death, each individual case is properly evaluated by an attorney onsite. That way, if there are extenuating circumstances, if they were unable to navigate the labyrinth of U.S. asylum law, at least there is one meaningful opportunity to seek relief before they are removed.
The violence and turmoil these families are fleeing is literally the worst in the western hemisphere. We cannot stand idly by while the federal government sends mothers and children to face unimaginable danger and possible death. Please, consider volunteering with the CARA Project, either in person at one of the family detention centers or remotely. Share this blog post and the articles about the raids with your networks on social media and encourage them to volunteer as well. We cannot stand idly by.