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Deportations of Central American Migrants Continue

Deportations of Central American Migrants Continue

In early January 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal law enforcement agency charged with enforcing immigration law, conducted operations to round up, detain and deport 120 Central American migrants, including many families. The U.S. government claimed that these individuals had exhausted all legal avenues for asylum. There were, however, widespread claims of due process errors in the cases, leading RAC Director Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner to join HIAS President Mark Hetfield in voicing concerns about the legality and morality of the ICE operations.

In a statement released on March 9, 2016, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that no further raids on Central American families had occurred since the early January operations. At the same time, he also announced that he had ordered ICE as of January 23 to conduct “Operation Border Guardian,” a deportation program aimed at individuals who had arrived in the United States as unaccompanied children prior to 2014, are now over 18 years of age and have no pending asylum cases or appeals. In all, 336 people have been taken into ICE custody as part of Operation Border Guardian.

The targeting of former unaccompanied children for deportation is a particularly troubling development in the ongoing struggle to address the influx of Central Americans along the United States’ southern border. These children are driven by violence and governmental failure to abandon their homes and families, and to make the long, dangerous journey northward through Mexico to the United States. In 2014, it was reported that somewhere between 40 and 80% of all unaccompanied children had a viable claim for asylum protection. And the situation in Central America is only getting worse – El Salvador’s murder rate grew by 70% between 2014 and 2015.

In the Torah, we are commanded dozens of times to treat the stranger in our midst with compassion, justice and mercy. Historically, the Reform Movement has reconciled that message of welcome with the need to maintain order in our immigration system by calling for a balanced approach to border enforcement.

We should ensure that our borders are not completely porous to immigration, and this includes deporting individuals who arrive without legal documentation, within reason. But, at the same time, we must demand that all undocumented arrivals who could qualify for asylum receive a fair hearing with full due process rights. And we must fulfill both our values as Americans and as Reform Jews by speaking out against deportation practices that target the most vulnerable, including current and former unaccompanied children, sending them back to certain danger.

The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act (S. 2540/H.R. 4646), introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in the Senate and by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in the House, would implement much needed legal protections for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable populations in asylum and deportation proceedings. Urge Congress to pass the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act to ensure that due process is afforded to all people seeking safety and security in the United States.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 3/23/2016