DHS’ Stepped-up Targeting of Families and Kids Fleeing Violence Denounced

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 11, 2016

CONTACT
Adela de la Torre delatorre@nilc.org

DHS’s Stepped-up Targeting of Families and Kids Fleeing Violence Denounced

WASHINGTON — Just one day after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) vowed to “offer vulnerable populations in Central America an alternate, safe and legal path to a better life,” it made the chilling revelation that, since late January, it has arrested 336 youth who came here as unaccompanied children fleeing some of the most horrific violence in the Western Hemisphere.

A new media report highlights some of these arrests, conducted as part of “Operation Border Guardian,” and the wave of fear that has gripped schools, churches and communities where these youth live. North Carolina has been particularly hard hit by these raids.

DHS has targeted these teens in aggressive early morning raids taking place in homes and at school bus stops. These arrests, like those of more than 120 Central American and Mexican mothers and young children that took place over New Year’s weekend, have deepened fears that keep children from going to school and parents from going to work or grocery stores, and that deepen the mistrust of government in immigrant communities, according to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).

Despite massive public outcry from immigrant, labor, faith, and congressional leaders in response to the early January raids, DHS continues to dig in its heels and forge ahead with these arrests, claiming that these youth represent an enforcement priority.

“There is simply no justification for targeting for arrest vulnerable kids fleeing violence. These enforcement actions urgently call into question what DHS’s priorities are,” said Avideh Moussavian, a policy attorney for NILC.

“These are kids who haven’t had a fair day in court, had no idea how to navigate our complex immigration system, and are often left trying desperately to fight their cases while locked up and cut off from their loved ones and support networks,” Moussavian added.

Strong public opposition to these enforcement actions have been voiced by faith and community leaders, including members of Congress.

Earlier this year, NILC and other groups issued a fact sheet and overview of experiences of 13 Central American and Mexican families during the raids at the start of the year. Based on interviews, the groups found:

• All these families are survivors of violence and trauma in their home countries and are deeply afraid of being sent back.

• 12 of the 13 have meritorious claims for protection and have not yet pursued all the legal remedies available to them.

• Project attorneys quickly filed notices of appeal and stay requests with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Acknowledging the severity of the situation, the BIA immediately issued stays of removal for all 12 families who requested them. In at least three of these cases, families were spared deportation only after literally being pulled off deportation flights at the very last minute.

NILC again calls on DHS to stop all raids against families and children fleeing violence in Central America, including those who have never appeared before an immigration judge.

Also, DHS must:

• Respect the legal rights of immigrant families during any enforcement actions, including constitutional and statutory rights, and avoid sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals, and churches.

• Facilitate access to counsel and ensure a fair day in court before an immigration judge to any immigrant fearing persecution.

• Respond to this as an urgent humanitarian situation and explore root causes for the violent conditions these families are fleeing. While this population overwhelmingly qualifies for asylum, DHS should also consider other protective measures, such as temporary protected status (TPS), as part of a humanitarian response.

• Use appropriate prosecutorial discretion pursuant to its own enforcement priorities rather than apply a blanket approach to all recent border crossers.

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