The Obama administration has no plans of stopping its ongoing immigration operations targeting Central American moms and children for deportation proceedings.
Since the start of the new year, federal immigration agents have detained and arrested 121 women and children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, at least 77 of whom have already been deported back to those countries. Harshly condemned by activists and lawyers, the raids have put the immigrant community as a whole on edge.
Many undocumented immigrants have already gone into hiding, afraid of frequenting businesses, attending schools, and going to important events. The raids have sent “shockwaves of violence, of fear and destruction” across immigrant communities, Joanne Lin, the immigration policy advocacy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told ThinkProgress late last month.
Central American immigrants have reason to be afraid of deportation — since January 2014, at least 83 people were killed after they were deported back to the three Central American countries, which are experiencing an unceasing wave of gang violence and crushing poverty. El Salvador is currently on track to overtake Honduras as the murder capital of the world.
In spite of the increasing dangers, the U.S. has yet to halt deportations back to Central America. But Obama administration officials have come close to acknowledging the nature of the situation on the ground. Here are just a few examples of U.S. officials suggesting they’re aware that Central America has a refugee crisis:
1. President Obama acknowledged that some Central Americans teens are running from gang violence.
Ahead of authorizing the immigration raids, President Obama noted during a naturalization ceremony late last year that many immigrants come to the United States “in search of dream” while “others sought shelter from nightmares.” Those people include refugees from all over the word, including “Central American teenagers running from gang violence.”
2. The U.S. increased the number of refugee admissions from Central America.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the country would expand its U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to offer “vulnerable” families and individuals “a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey that many are tempted to begin, making them at that instant easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profits.”
As many as 9,000 people from the three countries may be eligible under the proposed refugee program, according to an administration official who spoke with the New York Times. The United States was already planning to admit 85,000 refugees this fiscal year, but only about 3,000 of those slots were allocated for individuals from Latin American and the Caribbean. In comparison, the U.S. set aside about 10,000 refugee slots for Syrian refugees.
3. The U.S. State Department called El Salvador “one of the most dangerous countries in the world.”
In a congressional document submitted last month, the U.S. Department of State explained that El Salvador has become particularly dangerous thanks to an uptick in gang violence.
“El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world by measure of homicide rate,” reads the letter obtained by ThinkProgress. “Currently, 13 homicides occur each day in a country of only 6.2 million people and it has the world’s highest homicide rate among youth aged 0-19 at 27 per 100,000 people. Violence among youth has worsened rapidly since May, following the deterioration of a gang truce forged in 2012, driving a surge in migration of unaccompanied children (UCs) to the United States.”
4. The Peace Corps pulled its personnel out of El Salvador.
The same month that the Obama administration authorized the immigration raids, the Peace Corps — an independent agency within the executive branch of the U.S. government — suspended its program in El Salvador, citing the “ongoing security environment” and dangerous conditions in the country.
5. The Department of Homeland Secretary acknowledged we must provide “safe alternatives” for people “fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.”
In response to Democratic senators who criticized the administration’s authorization of deportation raids, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in a joint letter that the administration was focusing its enforcement resources on the “removal of convicted criminals and threats to public safety.” The letter released late last month and obtained by ThinkProgress insisted that the DHS agency would execute its law enforcement mission by continuing to “send the message that our borders are not open to unlawful migration.” But the letter also acknowledged, “we recognize we must offer safe alternatives to those fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.”
6. DHS Secretary Johnson recognized that some Central Americans can be “regarded as refugees.”
In a February press release, Johnson doubled down on the raids, saying they “will continue” because the Obama administration will not “dial back our border security efforts.” Still, at the end of the press release, Johnson acknowledged, that “many who seek to flee Central America may be regarded as refugees.”