Immigration Officials Could Soon Knock On The Doors Of 18,000 Central American Women and Kids

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File

FILE - In this June 3, 2014 file photo, Honduran migrant Velma Flores holds her friend's 7-month-old son Miguel Antonio while arriving with fellow migrants, escorted by human rights activists, to Mexico City. Flores, who is pregnant and traveling with two young daughters, is one of the vast numbers of Central American migrants undertaking the risky overland crossing through Mexico toward the U.S. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

Beyond the wave of immigration raids targeting 121 individuals for potential deportation proceedings earlier this month by the Obama administration, there may be thousands more Central American women and children who remain at risk for being rounded up and deported.

There are still 18,607 people in the “women and children” category who have been ordered removed by immigration judges, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. Of the total number of removal orders, 16,030, or 86 percent, “were issued for cases in which the women lacked any legal representation,” the TRAC report found based on an analysis using court records current as of the end of December 2015.

It remains unclear which states DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency will target next beyond its initial sweep through Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia. But the TRAC report found that 47 percent of the 18,607 removal orders were concentrated in Texas and California. In Texas, 88 percent of removal orders were issued to women and children who did not have legal representation. In California, that number was at 82 percent. The report indicated that Central American families in the Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles areas received the largest number of removal orders, followed next by Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The immigration raids in early January targeted 121 individuals, primarily Central American mothers and children who entered the United States after May 2014. The Obama administration has justified its action by claiming the targets had exhausted their legal remedies to stay in the country and were therefore subjected to “final orders of removal.”

“There is a judicial process and a legal due process that the administration is committed to following,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted at a press conference in early January.

In fact, the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a legal advocacy group, found evidence that some people were improperly targeted. The group was able to successfully obtain stays of removal for 33 mothers and children after finding that many of the women had been denied due process. These women were shuttled through a “rocket docket” that left no time for legal representatives to properly represent them or to compile the required evidence; did not have enough information about what the legal process actually is; were pressured to sign legal documents without access to counsel; and were arrested or detained even after they had cooperated with ICE requirements.

Immigrant advocates have decried the controversial raids as inhumane and traumatic, noting that some Latino immigrants have gone into hiding and are now refusing to show up for important appointments. Nonetheless, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said the raids will continue.

According to the American Bar Association, immigrants with legal representation — and even those who attend “know your rights” workshops to learn about the immigration court process — are more likely to navigate the immigration court system and win their cases. One study found that 73 percent of children with legal representation won their court cases while only 15 percent found success without legal representation. And children who have legal representation have a 92.5 percent appearance rate in immigration court.