EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
By now you’ve probably heard that President Barack Obama is ringing in the New Year by delivering Central American refugees the clear message that they are going to be swiftly deported back to their home countries, most likely to their deaths. Deportation raids commenced over the weekend with 121 refugees being taken into custody. The new operation specifically targets mothers and children who have already been ordered removed (deported) by an immigration judge. The operation is being overseen by Obama appointee Sarah Saldaña, the first Latina director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Despite the claims that this operation is being done humanely, there are reports that children are being taken from their homes in the middle of the night, without a warrant, and are being transported in unmarked cars. At least one Obama administration official remarked in 2014 that to achieve their mission, they will bring fugitive teams with car seats to arrest families.
Triggered by the exploding outrage in response to the Obama administration’s targeted attack on the most vulnerable members of the immigrant community, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a lengthy January 4 statement, which among other things, identified the focus of the raids. He explained:
The focus of this weekend’s operations were adults and their children who (i) were apprehended after May 1, 2014 crossing the southern border illegally, (ii) have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, and (iii) have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws.
Secretary Johnson justified the raids by stating that “if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.” On paper, that doesn’t necessarily sound unreasonably xenophobic. But a closer examination reveals that Secretary Johnson is deceptively painting refugees fleeing violence as lawbreakers who are abusing the system. To the contrary, our laws specifically provide a legal mechanism that allows non-citizens to present themselves at our borders for the purpose of seeking protection from persecution on account of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The point being, the law is being followed, and these women and children are asylum seekers, not lawbreakers as the Obama administration would have us believe.
Hypocritically, Secretary Johnson acknowledged that the subjects of the raids are in fact refugees, commenting that DHS and the Department of State are currently in the process of accelerating the development of new mechanisms to process and screen Central Americans in the region.
Secretary Johnson further justified the administration’s actions by stating that they are merely enforcing the law in a way that is “consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness and humanity.” You would think that enforcing the law in accordance with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness and humanity would not include jailing unaccompanied refugee children in deportation internment camps where they are neglected and abused, while depriving them of due process of law.
Since the initial wave of Central American refugees in the summer of 2014, the Obama administration has systematically fast-tracked toddlers through the immigration courts, and needless to say that without the protection of a lawyer, their deportation is an almost certainty. Unsurprisingly, statistics reveal that when children go into court without a lawyer they tend to lose their case. This process is euphemistically called the Rocket Docket.
Immigration lawyer Bryan Johnson explains that the Rocket Docket is used to expedite the deportation of unaccompanied children who came to the United States after January 2014, as well as mothers fleeing violence with their children. If you are among this group, your deportation is prioritized, and immigration judges are held to strict case completion deadlines to ensure the swiftness of the result. This is what Bryan Johnson calls the “first seeds sown for today’s raids.”
He notes that “the purpose of the expedited docket was made clear immediately: to physically overload and overwhelm the existing legal provider network (including for-profit and non-profit lawyers) so that the maximum amount of children and/or mothers would not be able to hire or be appointed a lawyer.”
Basically, the Obama administration has been tossing immigrant children into a deportation grinder, and the latest enforcement operations are little more than cleaning the blood off the floor. If all of this makes you want to scream, you aren’t the only one. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley strongly criticized the Obama administration during Christmas. At a January 3 campaign event in Iowa, O’Malley took the rhetoric even further, stating, “What the hell have we come to as a country that you’re talking about rounding up women and children fleeing death gangs at Christmas time?”
So much for American values.
In his November 20, 2014 address to the nation, President Obama said, “Tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone that suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans.”
Apparently, it is, Mr. President, and it is you who hasn’t been straight with us.
Matthew Kolken is an immigration lawyer and the managing partner of Kolken & Kolken, located in Buffalo, New York. His legal opinions and analysis are regularly solicited by various news sources, including MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, Forbes and The Los Angeles Times, among others.
Featured image: U.S. President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, November 20, 2014. (Photo by Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images)