U.S. authorities are planning raids to deport hundreds of families who crossed the border illegally during the last few years’ Central American migrant crisis, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Anonymous sources familiar with the preparations told the Post that as soon as January, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will begin targeting “family units” who did not secure asylum and have been ordered to leave the country since January 1, 2014.
The sources said many of those migrants did not show up at their immigration court dates or otherwise had their asylum claims rejected. (Under U.S. law, refugees fleeing violence, threats or persecution can receive asylum status and stay legally in the United States.) Immigration advocates countered to the Post that many of those migrants were not granted proper legal representation or had other problems navigating the complicated U.S. immigration system.
The surge in recent years of families—as well as unaccompanied minors—fleeing Central American violence further complicated the already intense immigration debate roiling the country. On one hand, President Obama has appeared welcoming to immigrants and his administration sought to use its executive authority to shield some 5 million immigrants from deportation. (That measure is currently blocked by the courts.) On the other hand, his Department of Homeland Security has deported more people than other administrations and also has come under fire for its expanded use of family detention centers to hold migrants seeking refugee status.
The Post suggested a recent court decision ordering the release of migrants from the detention centers may be motivating the new round of raids.
DHS’ deportation plans could also further inflame the issue on the 2016 campaign trail, where GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has pushed the Republican primary to the right on immigration. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has previously criticized Obama’s deportation strategy for being overly harsh.
Update: When asked by TPM for comment on the report and the criticisms since, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Gillian M. Christensen sent a statement that was also included in the original Washington Post report:
“As Secretary 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 our values,” the statement said.