The Obama administration’s latest push to deport hundreds of Central American immigrants who illegally entered the country last year has enraged many congressional Democrats and immigrant advocates and raises the intriguing question of whether President Obama is embracing some harsher Donald Trump-style tactics.
For all his efforts over the past year to try to protect millions of illegal immigrants with executive orders, Obama nonetheless was dubbed the “Deporter-in-Chief” by some because of the more than 2 million people who have been deported throughout his presidency. Although the pace of deportations dropped off significantly during the past several years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have begun to pick up the pace again with a series of raids last weekend in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.
Just 121 adults and children from Central America and Mexico were swept up in the post-holiday raids, but Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson indicated in a statement Monday that there would be many more to follow. “As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration,” Johnson said in the statement. “If you come here illegally, we will send you back, consistent with our laws and values.”
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, a prominent congressional Democrat, has urged the Department of Homeland Security to halt the raids, calling them a “cruel reminder of a discredited policy.” Politico reported that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus intends to discuss the raids at its weekly meeting on Thursday and may seek a meeting with Johnson to discuss the policy.
More than 100,000 families with both adults and children from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador illegally crossed into the U.S. since early last year, including many who were attempting to escape gang violence and oppressive living conditions.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the lone Hispanic Democrat in the upper chamber, denounced the administration’s “harsh tactics” and asserted that the latest raids are targeting undocumented immigrants whose only mistake was trying to “escape certain death in their native countries.”
Several of the immigrants swept up in the recent raids have had their deportations halted temporarily, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democratic candidate for the Senate, said that the renewed effort to deport families and children “is the wrong approach that’s causing unthinkable heartache for hardworking immigrant families who fear being separated.”
“When families come to America fleeing for their lives, they should be treated in a manner consistent with our nation’s founding ideals — not like the dangerous felons who should instead be the focus of enforcement,” Van Hollen added in a statement. “That's why I've been fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, and Congress must act to finally fix our broken immigration system.”
An irate Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, called the Obama administration raids “something we would expect from a President Trump,” according to Politico.