WASHINGTON, D.C. — Immigrant rights activists delivered 136,000 signed petitions to the White House this week, calling on President Obama to stop operations targeting Central American mothers and children for expedited deportation proceedings.
Since the beginning of the new year, the Obama administration has been conducting immigration operations to detain and deport recent border crossers, particularly Central American mothers and children who have final orders of removal or have exhausted all their legal options to stay in the country. The administration has since taken in 121 immigrants in Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia, at least 77 of whom were deported back to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Known as the “Northern Triangle” countries, these places are struggling with high rates of gang violence and murder that make them unsafe destinations to be deported back to.
Tuesday’s rally followed weeks of fear and anxiety throughout Latino communities, as immigrants are too afraid to leave their homes in fear of encountering federal law enforcement officials.
“Hey Obama, don’t deport my mama,” the activists shouted outside the White House. Among their petition demands, the group is calling on the Obama administration to provide asylum-seeking families with Temporary Protected Status, a form of temporary immigration relief that would allow some people to stay in the country legally.
“ICE’s decision to target asylum-seeking children and families is a terrible mistake that only instills fear in all our communities,” Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), one of organizations involved in organizing the event, said. “We urge the administration to halt inhumane enforcement policies targeting immigrant and refugee families seeking protection within our borders.”
Sandra, a Central American woman who crossed the southern U.S. border at the end of 2013 with her four-year-old son, told her own story at the rally of leaving behind a dangerous home country.
“We came to flee hunger, poverty, and kidnappings from my own family,” Sandra said.
According to Sandra, after she and her son was detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, they were treated like criminals. “When we tell immigration that we came to the U.S. to flee violence, they would be mad and throw us against the tables and tell us to stop lying,” she said. “They grab our hands and make us sign documents that I didn’t know what they were. After going through this hell, I have a final deportation order.”
In a statement released Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that the raids will continue, despite the mounting concerns of advocates, attorneys, and members of Congress who have loudly criticized the border security effects. Johnson insisted that “our borders are not open to illegal migration.”
Sandra is “very afraid” that “the savage ICE agents will come knocking on the door and take me and my son back to a country that we come fleeing from,” even though they could be in “great danger” if they’re deported.
“I do not want my life and my son’s life to end up in a casket,” she said. “I don’t want to be assassinated like it has happened with other family members.”