What It Looks Like When Immigration Agents Arrest An Undocumented Mom In Front Of Her Kids

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Antony Lopez, 10, left, Hillary Lopez, 11, and Angelita Lopez, 6, all of Arlington, Va., wear shirts that read "Don't Deport My Mom" next to their mother, Viviana Oxlaj, during a rally in support of immigration reform and the DREAM Act in Lafayette Park outside the White House in Washington, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The exchange between two federal immigration agents and an undocumented mother quickly gets ugly. As a grainy, dizzying minute-long video shows, two pairs of hands reach into the front side of a car where a seated female driver pushes against one uniformed federal immigration agent. In the next scene, the woman’s hands are held down against the window as she’s dragged out of her car. The last scene shows her held to the ground, handcuffed by two officials.

Redada de la Patrulla Fronteriza se lleva a una mujer frente a…

#Exclusiva de Univision NoticiasAgentes federales se llevan a una mujer frente a su familia.

Posted by Al Punto on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The exclusive video, which was provided to the Spanish-language news program Al Punto, depicts an undocumented immigrant being arrested by federal immigration officials in front of her children. Two of the three children, ages 13 and 16, were also handcuffed, then later released to their grandmother. According to Al Punto, immigration agents were looking for the woman’s partner, who may have been involved in trafficking undocumented immigrants, though she insisted that she didn’t have a close relationship with the man.

The interaction caught on video offers insight into why immigrants often fear coming into contact with law enforcement officers, and particularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.

In the first weeks of the new year, after the Obama administration authorized deportation raids primarily targeting women and children who fled Central American countries, this fear has been intensified. Immigrants say they’re afraid to leave their homes or answer knocks on their door. Many are terrified of going outside. They don’t want to encounter ICE officials who will send them back to Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador.

They have reason to be worried. In those countries, gangs control entire neighborhoods, leading many of the people who get deported back to hide in their homes. Some deportees have ended up dead. In particular, El Salvador has recently become so dangerous that the Peace Corps suspended its program because of the “ongoing security environment.”

Nonetheless, of the 121 immigrants detained for potential deportation proceedings in the early January raids, more than 70 were sent back to these Central American countries.

Two recent reports have documented the extent to which the ongoing raids are traumatizing the immigrant community.

United We Dream, an immigrant advocacy group, found that immigrants are calling into the organization’s Deportation Defense Hotline reporting similar patterns of distressing encounters at their homes. One individual in New Jersey, for example, said ICE agents forced their way into his home, handcuffed his father, and took his 21-year-old brother into custody.

In a separate report, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that agents have “engaged in a needlessly aggressive — and potentially unconstitutional — acts against immigrants with these home raids that targeted women and children from Central America.”

The SPLC says that some of the recent raids were conducted without warrants and involved ICE agents improperly entering immigrants’ homes without obtaining lawful and voluntary consent. There’s some evidence, too, that ICE agents have been denying women access to lawyers, telling Spanish-speaking women to sign legal documents they can’t understand, and detaining people before they have a chance to exercise all their immigration relief options. According to the SPLC, the government has been focusing raids in jurisdictions with some of the lowest rates of legal representation among large cities.

More than 140 House Democrats and 22 Senate counterparts signed letters denouncing the raids last week, while 270 organizations urged the Obama administration to grant Temporary Protected Status, a form of temporary immigration relief, to people from Central America. As the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) reported, anywhere between 750,000 and 1.2 million individuals in these Northern Triangle countries could qualify for Temporary Protected Status.

Despite the widespread backlash, the Obama administration continues to defend the raids — and has shown no signs of backing off the approach.

“We will continue to conduct enforcement actions in line with existing laws and policies, including the apprehension and removal of individuals with final orders of removal who have exhausted or waived all appeals,” Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson wrote Democratic lawmakers in a letter obtained by Politico this week.