The Obama administration rang in the New Year with a wave of terror against undocumented workers, particularly Central Americans.
In an unprecedented act, the raids particularly targeted children, the first in this country to target minors.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced on Jan. 3 that 121 people had been taken into custody in the states of Georgia, Texas and North Carolina over the New Year’s weekend to await deportation.
He stated: “This past weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children. This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.” (Politico, Jan. 4)
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest added at a press conference that President Barack Obama supports deportation of those who recently entered the U.S. illegally. Earnest said at the daily briefing for reporters, “Certainly, people should take from this the understanding that the administration is quite serious about enforcing our immigration laws.”
In fact, President Obama has carried out more deportations than any other U.S. president. Since his election, over 2 million workers have been deported.
Raids illegal, inhumane and unprecedented
The response to the raids, not only by longstanding immigrant rights associations and advocates but also by a number of legal entities, was swift and forceful.
The way that the raids were carried out led to an immediate condemnation by advocates, and human rights and legal aid organizations.
ICE agents, according to several news sources, typically arrived in pre-dawn hours at the homes of people with deportation orders. One woman in Dallas told VICE news (Jan. 5) that she and her two sons were asleep in her parents’ home. When her father opened the door, agents burst inside. She said she was wearing very little as she was still in bed. Nonetheless, ICE took her and her two children to a detention center in South Texas to await deportation.
Similar scenes took place in Georgia and North Carolina. Immigration activists report that such raids also occurred in Maryland.
One reason the raids were met with such quick and strong condemnation is the context in which Central American migrants are here and their unique status.
Many of the children and parents who were targeted for deportation faced a rushed and unfair legal process that never gave them their day in court. Legal experts and immigration advocates point out how utterly unfair and illegal it is to target this particularly group for deportation.
Michelle Chen writes in the Nation (Jan. 5), “Those slated for deportation have spent months bouncing around a legal gauntlet that baffles even attorneys, let alone 7-year-olds who don’t speak English, or young mothers suffering post-traumatic stress.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request just hours after the raids were announced. They wrote that the raids “raise serious questions about whether federal agents violated constitutional standards or used illegal tactics to detain immigrant families seeking safety.”
The group filed a FOIA request to investigate the legality of the raids and called the actions “simply unconscionable.” They continue, “Our preliminary investigation indicates that ICE and cooperating local law enforcement agencies used coercion and deception as part of the raids in Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties in Georgia.”
Throughout the country, immigrant groups and advocates responded swiftly and mobilized in defense of their communities. Press rallies, forums and know-your-rights outreach took place in cities throughout Texas, Wisconsin, California, New York and elsewhere.
Immigrants were advised not to open the door without being shown warrants, as ICE agents were knocking on doors and using chicanery and deception to get in. Agents say they are looking for John Doe or Tal Fulano — a person that no one knows in that home — and use that as a pretext to get in and pick up someone else.
Deported back to die
The targeting of migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in the New Year’s raids is especially unconscionable, as well as racist and criminal, because of the conditions the youth, children and families are being deported back to.
Decades of imperialist intervention in Central America have created unstable social conditions. The so-called U.S. war on drugs served not to stop illegal drugs but to build and expand the drug industry, including the cartels.
This lucrative industry for the banks and the entire drug business means that drugs won’t be stopped until the movement for justice stops them. In the meantime, drug violence soars in Central America and Mexico so the business can carry on.
Central American youth in particular are being returned to their deaths. Many of the migrant families report that they fled Honduras or El Salvador only after family members had already been targeted and often killed by drug lords. Families are fleeing for their lives. One migrant mother told a member of Congress that she could live in poverty but she could not live under conditions of war.
In 2014, more than 100,000 working-class people came across the border fleeing these conditions. Thousands were unaccompanied minors. Young people recounted how they were pressured to “join or die” the so-called gangs.
On Oct. 12, 2015, a Guardian newspaper headline read: “U.S. government deporting Central American migrants to their death.” The newspaper’s investigation documented that many of the deportees sent back by the Obama administration had been murdered just days or months after returning to El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. The study said that as many as 83 returnees had been killed since 2014. Immigration activists say that is just the tip of the iceberg. Three Honduran men were gunned down just days after being returned home.
The blood of migrants — whether killed by drug violence, attacks by cartels, during travel to the U.S., or losing their lives in the deserts or on the railroad tracks near the border — is on the hands of U.S. imperialism.
Instability in Central America, just as in Mexico, is absolutely and totally due to U.S. imperialist policies. This is why Central American migrants in particular deserve refugee status immediately. And immigrant groups are absolutely correct in demanding an immediate end to the raids and deportations.
Will more raids continue? If they do, the movement will respond with an even greater fightback.