When the Obama administration’s plans to conduct immigration raids targeting Central Americans with deportation orders were leaked to the media, fear spread throughout many immigrant communities, including those in the Boston area. So far, more than 120 adults and children have been apprehended nationwide, and federal officials have confirmed the raids will continue. Unfortunately, the stepped-up immigration enforcement may force many from Central America to return to dangerous conditions, where they fear for their lives. Obama, who has earned the “deporter-in-chief” moniker, should halt this politically motivated effort and consider the senselessness of sending immigrants back to countries from which they will soon flee again.
The Globe’s Maria Sacchetti reported last week on the tension caused by the raids in the local immigrant community. Although no one has been detained in New England, rumors and panic have persisted. According to officials, a specific group of Central American immigrants is being targeted: the hundreds who arrived illegally since the beginning of 2014 and already have a deportation order issued by a judge. In total, more than 100,000 undocumented adults and children have arrived from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador fleeing violence in the last two years.
But there’s enough evidence to conclude that, for many, the basic right to due process was violated before the courts ordered removal. Last week, the deportations of at least 20 immigrants snagged in the roundups were reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals because they didn’t have proper legal representation.
In Boston, federal immigration judges have issued deportation orders to 263 parents and children in the last two fiscal years. A 20-year-old Guatemalan from Burlington was ordered deported in absentia because he didn’t show up to his court appointment. His lawyer told the Globe he never got the hearing notice because he had moved. Although he alerted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the move, he didn’t know he also had to inform the federal immigration court. He was hoping to explain the death threats he faces in Guatemala to a judge, but he never got his day in court.
Just as troubling, these deportations suggest that the theater and spectacle caused by the anti-immigrant demagoguery of GOP presidential front-runners has rubbed off on Obama’s immigration policies. To be sure, the administration argues that this enforcement policy is consistent with removal priorities outlined in late 2014. But the context is different now: A heated presidential campaign is under way and conditions in Central America have worsened.
That’s why Democrats in Congress have been pressuring the Obama administration to stop the raids and offer temporary protection to immigrants seeking asylum. “Donald Trump is praising your public policy on immigration,” Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois allegedly said to Obama administration officials, according to Politico. “You should need no further evidence of how wrong it is.”
Gutierrez is right. Deportation is never going to be an effective policy to deter illegal immigration unless the underlying causes are addressed. Consider this: El Salvador’s murder rate has increased by nearly 70 percent, making it the world’s highest. Honduras’s rate follows close behind.
While the rhetoric in the presidential campaign escalates, immigrants from Central America will continue to pour in, so long as the United States continues to treat the symptoms rather than help address the reasons why they are compelled to flee.