The Department of Homeland Security is preparing to raid the homes of hundreds of Central American families who crossed the U.S. border over the past two years amid an upsurge in regional violence, the Washington Post reports. The operation would target families that have already been denied asylum and issued orders to leave the country. More than 100,000 Central American families have crossed the border since January of 2014.
The move comes as drought and a record level of homicides in El Salvador have driven a new wave of migrants across the southern border. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 12,000 people traveling in family units were apprehended at the border in October and November, up from 4,500 in the same months last year. The number of unaccompanied minors who were detained in those two months exceeded 10,000, compared with 5,000 during the same period in 2014.
A government official told the Journal that the goal of the deportation raids is “to send the message to would-be crossers that they won’t be allowed to remain in the U.S.” According to the Post, the operation is controversial within the Obama administration, and is likely to prove even more divisive beyond the White House gates.
“This is the last thing we expected from the administration at this point, ” executive director of the National Immigration Law Center Marilena Hincapie told the Journal. “It is time that administration acknowledge once and for all that these mothers and children are refugees just like Syrians.”
Hincapie’s position is shared by left-wing Latino advocacy groups more broadly, which may put the Democratic Party’s 2016 front-runner between Barack and a hard place.
“This will be a political nightmare for the Democrats,” immigration advocate Frank Sharry told the the Post’s Greg Sargent. “The specter of raids picking up families and sending them back to violent countries is going to put Hillary Clinton in a difficult position. She’ll have to choose between protecting refugees from Central America, a demand of the Latino community, or standing with the law-and-order position of Obama and Republicans.”
When the migrant crisis first surfaced in 2014, Clinton initially suggested that the unaccompanied minors flocking across the border should be “sent back.” In the wake of harsh criticism from immigration advocates, Clinton clarified that she did not oppose resettling child migrants who were ruled “genuine refugees.”
Her main rival for the nomination, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, condemned the new deportation plan on Thursday.
“I am very disturbed by reports that the government may commence raids to deport families who have fled here to escape violence in Central America,” Sanders said in a statement. “As we spend time with our families this holiday season, we who are parents should ask ourselves what we would do if our children faced the danger and violence these children do? How far would we go to protect them?”
Sargent notes that the new operation could undermine the sharp distinctions between the Democratic Party’s platform on immigration and that of Trump and company — distinctions that have Blue America’s operatives dreaming of a landslide victory among Latino voters in 2016.
President Obama’s legacy on immigration has been a cause of outrage on both the left and right. Immigration advocates have decried the president as “the deporter-in-chief” for the record number of deportations under his administration, while right-wing media has branded him a Constitution-defying tyrant for issuing executive orders that protect certain categories of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that deportations dropped by 25 percent in 2015, to 235,413, the lowest total since 2006.