by Tammy Alexander
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13)
While many of us were still celebrating the Christmas season, the Obama administration began a series of immigration raids to deport refugee families. The raids began on January 2. So far, more than 100 mothers and children have been taken from homes and put into detention centers. Of these, 73 were quickly deported.
Just as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to safety in Egypt, many of these families were fleeing situations where their children’s lives were threatened—in many cases, due to widespread gang violence in the three Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Volunteer lawyers from the CARA project were able to interview 13 of the families picked up in the early January raids, finding that 12 of them had credible claims for “asylum,” or, protection, in the United States. After a judge reviewed their cases, the 12 mothers and their 21 children were granted stays of removal (a delay in their deportations).
The lawyers found that some of the mothers had had their cases heard in a “rocket docket” where they were expected to prepare evidence in a few days. Others were pressured into signing documents they did not understand. And some were arrested and detained even while complying with the asylum process requirements.
A typical raid involved five to fifteen armed immigration enforcement officers banging on the door of a home in the pre-dawn hours. Several individuals reported that the officers lied about who they were looking for, and why, in order to gain entry into a house. The new raids have struck fear into the hearts of refugees and undocumented immigrants in communities around the country.
In a press release about the raids, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson made several false claims. First, Johnson said that the families being targeted have exhausted their options for asylum. That 12 of 13 families were granted stays by a judge shows otherwise.
Second, Johnson repeated the falsehood that those being targeted are “illegal” immigrants. In fact, these families are following the legal process for requesting asylum in another country—they are crossing the border and immediately turning themselves over to Border Patrol and requesting protection.
Third, Johnson and others in the Obama administration continue to repeat the myth that such raids and other enforcement measures deter future refugees. Raids will not deter families who are afraid that staying in or returning to their homes will mean certain death.
And their fears are well founded. According to a recent report in The Guardian, since 2014, as many as 83 persons have been killed shortly after being deported to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Tell President Obama that immigration raids focused on women and children fleeing violence are inhumane and unacceptable. A sensible immigration policy would focus on the root causes of this migration and on true threats to public safety.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting domestic and international issues and detailing ways the church can be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy to elected leaders.