The recent deportation raids targeting Central American immigrants will not discourage immigrants who are fleeing their countries as a last resort, the U.S. bishops said.
From Jan. 2 to Jan. 4, the Department of Homeland Security searched communities in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina for immigrants who were in the country illegally. Federal officials took 121 people into custody.
Many of the detainees now being held in federal detention centers awaiting deportation back to Central America are mothers and children, the bishops said.
“To send migrant children and families back to their home countries would put many of them in grave danger because they would face threats of violence and for some, even death,” Bishops Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, and Kevin Vann of Orange, Calif. said in a Jan. 8 letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson on behalf of the U.S. bishops.
Bishop Elizondo serves as the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and Bishop Vann heads the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
The bishops said the administration’s actions do not discourage other Central American immigrants from making the dangerous journey to the U.S. Many are fleeing the area as a last resort to escape life-threatening violence and persecution. The raids have “generated fear among immigrants and have made their communities even more distrustful of law enforcement and vulnerable to misinformation, exploitation and fraud.”
“While we recognize the vital role that the federal government plays in ensuring orderly and coherent migration processes,” the bishops said, “we disagree with the underlying rationale behind this action: that sending children and families back to the dangerous environments they fled will serve as a deterrent for other children and families who are considering fleeing Central America.”
They noted that these raids “contrast sharply” with President Obama’s November 2014 claims that his administration would target deportation of “felons, not families; criminals, not children; gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”
“These actions, which force people to live in fear and terror and separate families, deny the dignity of the human spirit,” Bishop Vann and Bishop Elizondo said.
They discouraged deportation, especially without first checking whether these individuals have any “meaningful opportunities to present their asylum claims at hearings in immigration court.” They called for an outright end to detaining mothers and children.
“While the mothers who were the targets of DHS’s recent actions had deportation orders, we note that already the Board of Immigration Appeals has recognized that some of these deportation orders involve serious due process concerns,” they said.
The bishops said the Obama administration and Congress should encourage long-term solutions to help solve what they said is the root problem of forced migration. Such solutions would include more support for humanitarian efforts in Central America.
They also recommended increased resources for the American immigration court system, such as providing more attorneys and judges to handle the growing number of Central American immigrants coming to the U.S.
On Jan. 13, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. will expand its Refugees Admissions Program and seek help from humanitarian organizations including the United Nations to manage the huge influx of Central American migrants.
Bishops Elizondo and Vann offered their concerns for the families who they said have already been harmed by the deportation raids.
“Believing that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, we recognize the God-given dignity of every person,” the bishops said.
“We cannot support such actions and urge you to reject future enforcement efforts of this kind,” their letter concluded. “We promise to continue our efforts to work with you to reform our immigration system and make it truly reflective of American ideals and values.”