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US Roundup, Deportation of Central American Families Begins

Demonstrators at an immigrant rights protest in Walla Walla, Washington. (Photo: Richard Morgan/Flickr Creative Commons)

Demonstrators at an immigrant rights protest in Walla Walla, Washington. (Photo: Richard Morgan/Flickr Creative Commons)

Federal immigration authorities launched a controversial crackdown targeting Central American families who entered the United States illegally, raiding and arresting undocumented asylum seekers despite the deadly dangers they face in their homelands.

The Los Angeles Times reports at least 11 families were rounded up by Department of Homeland Security officials over the weekend in Texas and Georgia as the crackdown announced last month began.

On Saturday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided the Norcross, Georgia home of Honduran asylum seeker Joanna Gutierrez, arriving in unmarked vehicles and presenting a warrant for a man she did not know before searching the residence and arresting her niece, 30-year-old Ana Lizet Mejia, and Mejia’s 9-year-old son. Mejia fled from her violence-plagued homeland after her brother was murdered by gang members, entering the US illegally with her son in the 2014 wave of Central American migrants seeking more peaceful, prosperous lives here.

Gutierrez told the Times the ICE raid woke her children, who were “shaking from fear” as the Mejias were taken into custody. “This is the way it is with police in this country,” she explained to her children.

“They came in unmarked trucks; they said they had a paper, that they were seeking a black person, I told them there was no one like that, but they went in and removed the children, my niece, my husband, and did not care that the children were crying,” Gutierrez told teleSUR. “What they did was an abuse.”

Gutierrez said she fears for her niece’s life should she be deported to Honduras.

“[Her] life is in danger because she [is] facing threats after she went to the police to report the death of her brother,” she told teleSUR.

Last year, the Guardian reported that deported Central Americans face the imminent threat of violence, with several people being murdered shortly after their forced return. Local media in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have reported scores of deportees who have been murdered after returning to their native lands.

A Homeland Security official who was denied permission to speak on record told reporters that the weekend raids were just the beginning of an effort to deport undocumented Central American families and convince other potential migrants that illegally entering the United States is “fruitless.”

“Attempting to unlawfully enter the United States as a family unit does not protect individuals from being subject to the immigration laws of this country,” the official said. “ICE will continue to pursue the removal of persons who fall within DHS immigration enforcement priorities, including families who are recent unlawful border crossers and who are subject to final orders of removal.”

ICE spokesman Matthew Bourke told the Guardian that the new deportation push was intended to “further deter individuals from undertaking the journey.”

Countering claims that the government isn’t doing enough to help refugees fleeing deadly violence in some of the world’s most violent nations, Bourke insisted that the US will “aim to ensure that there are safe, lawful and orderly options available” for Central Americans to gain entry into the country.

Immigrant rights advocates condemned the new crackdown, with the group America’s Voice calling it “appalling” and “shameful” that refugees would be deported to “places where rape, sexual abuse and murder are commonplace.”

“Most disturbingly, the plan raises the ugly specter of the very mass roundups and deportation advocated by several candidates running for the GOP presidential nomination—most notably Donald Trump,” America’s Voice said in a statement.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, who launched his 2016 campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” claimed responsibility for the crackdown in a Christmas Eve tweet.

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After the new deportation campaign was announced last month, all three Democrat candidates for president condemned the plan. Hillary Clinton appealed to America’s “spirit of humanity and generosity,” while Bernie Sanders asked “what we would do if our children faced the danger and violence these children do?”

“Our nation has always been a beacon of hope, a refuge for the oppressed,” the Sanders campaign said in a statement. “We cannot turn our backs on that essential element of who we are as a nation. We need to take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here, not cast them out.”

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