Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote to the White House on Thursday, demanding an end to the stepped up immigration raids and deportations of Central Americans that the Obama Administration announced just before Christmas. Just after the new year, more than 100 people were arrested in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, including many women and children.
“I urge you to immediately end these raids and not deport families back to countries where a death sentence awaits,” Sanders wrote. “We cannot continue to employ inhumane tactics involving rounding up and deporting tens of thousands of immigrant families to address a crisis that requires compassion.”
Sanders’ letter references reports that some Central Americans already deported by the Obama Administration have since been murdered in their home countries, and argues that the Department of Homeland Security should extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to those still in the United States to help them avoid such a fate.
Democratic hopeful Martin O’Malley has also called for TPS for Central American migrants, while the campaign of frontrunner Hillary Clinton has said, “We should not be conducting large-scale raids and roundups that sow fear and division in our communities.” Immigrant rights groups are criticizing Clinton for not taking a stronger stand, accusing her of “remaining on the side lines” of the debate.
The Obama Administration argues that the raids are only targeting undocumented immigrants who recently arrived from Central America, do not qualify for refugee status, and have exhausted all their legal options. But some legal and human rights experts say many of the Central American migrants have not been given adequate access to a lawyer and the information necessary to navigate a byzantine legal system and make their case to stay in the United States. This week, the Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, and blocked the deportations of several families who were slated to be sent back to Honduras and El Salvador.
The administration is targeting for deportation those who crossed the border starting in the summer of 2014, when a wave of gang violence in Central America motivated those already struggling with poverty, including thousands of unaccompanied children, to flee. With thousands of killings each day, the tiny nation of El Salvador became the murder capital of the hemisphere in 2015, surpassing Honduras, which had held the dubious honor in recent years.
Erika Andiola, the national Latino press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, told ThinkProgress that the U.S. should not send families back to such danger.
“These people are making a huge journey through Mexico, risking their lives, crossing so many borders, just to run away from that violence,” she said. “Now we’re sending them back to get killed by the same people who push them out in the first place. Our country needs to be more compassionate about that.”
Andiola herself came to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, and was undocumented until the Obama Administration extended temporary legal status to her and other young immigrants, known as DREAMers, in 2012. Before joining Sanders’ campaign, she spoke out for immigrant rights in her home state of Arizona, and pressured members of Congress to pass immigration reform that would help her still-vulnerable parents.
“My own home was raided and it’s not something that I wish on anyone,” she said. “It’s disturbing to see this tactic being announced before the holidays. It not only affects the people being targeted, but a whole community of people, including mixed-status families [where some members are citizens]. They now fear immigration can appear at the supermarket, on the trains we ride. People are asking, ‘Will I get targeted at my children’s school? At my church?’ So it was really important for Senator Sanders to send a very strong message to the Administration that this is not the right way to do things. We should not be literally tearing families apart.”
Immigrant rights groups and political pundits are voicing concerns that these raids carried out by a Democratic administration will erode support for Democrats in communities of color. The party heavily depends on the growing Latino vote in particular to win nationally, and while most Latinos are unlikely to swing to a Republican Party whose frontrunners are calling for mass deportations and increased border militarization, a loss of enthusiasm for Democrats could be dangerous.
“It’s our job to make sure our communities know that there are people in this campaign that don’t agree with these deportations,” Andiola told ThinkProgress. “Sanders has said that as president he wouldn’t wait for Congress to enact policies to help millions of undocumented people in this country. The community needs to hear that, so they feel motivated to go out and vote.”