The Department of Homeland Security has been planning a major campaign to deport hundreds of families who arrived in the United States within the past year after escaping violence in Latin American countries, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The effort will be conducted in a series of raids starting in January by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, people familiar with the matter told the Post. DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron did not confirm the operation, but said the department and Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson have been staunch in the position that families in the U.S. illegally that have not been granted asylum would face deportation.
“[Johnson] has consistently said our border is not open to illegal immigration, and if individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our laws and values,” Catron said.
The Obama administration said last week that it has deported the fewest immigrants in 2015 since 2006 — just 235,413 people as of September, the Associated Press reported. DHS attributed the declining numbers to a 30 percent drop in arrests at the border.
The new operation, if it goes ahead, will likely provoke backlash against the government for being too harsh on families fleeing violence in their home countries. The Obama administration’s policies on immigration previously faced criticism across the political spectrum as being either too severe or not severe enough.
“It would be an outrage if the administration subjected Central American families to even more aggressive enforcement tactics,” Gregory Chen, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told the Post. “This administration has never acknowledged the truth: that these families are refugees seeking asylum who should be given humanitarian protection rather than being detained or rounded up.”