Redefining Statistics and My Dreams: A Personal Essay from a Second-Generation Latina Immigrant

On the first day of Kindergarten, I remember how she held my hand. I remember how, before she kissed me goodbye, my mother whispered into my ear, “tienes que ser la mejor,” you have to be the best.

I was born into a family of hardworking immigrants in a city only an hour away from the U.S.–Mexico border. Worried about the quality of education in the low-income neighborhood that we lived in, my parents toured schools until they found one that satisfied their expectations. Like many immigrants, they dreamt of a life full of opportunity for me and my younger brother, making our education their priority. I knew from my father’s dust-covered hands and my mother’s warm and tired smile that nothing would make them happier than to see us succeed. While it is unlikely that my mother remembers whispering those words into my ear, they followed me as I grew up. In a way, her words gave me the courage to learn how to take on the world without her by my side.

When I was 15 years old, my parents’ visas expired. Confident that it would be an easy renewal and that the process would allow them to come back to the United States, my parents left me with my younger brother for what should have only been a short time. However, a week turned into a month, and that month, into years. I saw my brother leave everything behind: his school, his friends and his life. He crossed borders indefinitely to join our parents in a different country.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my parents’ visas were denied not once, but twice. Instead, I was stunned. I never thought that my smart and amazing eight-year-old brother would not be able to finish his school year or that I would never get to enjoy my mother’s comforting enchiladas after a soccer game.

Yet the thought of leaving my country, a country that many believe that I do not belong in, was one that I could not bear to imagine.

I spent the next few years learning how to adapt quickly and prudently in different environments, moving a total of four different times, thanks to the generosity of neighbors, school administrators and the strangers who took me in. My school, concerned about my well-being, enrolled me in a dropout prevention program for homeless youth, tiptoeing around me as if I could break at any moment.

Gently, I was encouraged to go back to my family.

Gently, I was told that my life would be better if I just went back to Mexico.

In hindsight, I understand why my situation was treated with such caution. Among second-generation immigrants of Hispanic descent, only about 20% ever make it to post-secondary school and only half of those between the ages of 25 and 35 have a high school diploma. In addition, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are more than 4 million U.S.-born children of undocumented parents, thousands of whom are facing the consequences of family separation due to broken immigration law.

Here I was: alone, homeless, a result of Congress’s refusal to engage in immigration reform. All those factors increased my chances of dropping out by 87%. That, in conjunction with everything else, left me surrounded by a pool of frightening statistics.

However, those statistics just lead to a series of unfortunate misconceptions. For one, they fail to take into account the extreme sacrifices made by immigrant families. They erase my parents’ resisting their decision to let me go, unsure of my future, and how they held my younger brother as he crumbled and watched me wave him goodbye from the other side of steel grates. They fail to take into account how, for millions of first- and second-generation immigrants, these statistics create a subconscious prejudice that deters institutions from seeing the full potential of the students who walk through their doors. In the case of my brother and so many others, they fail to convey that going back means going somewhere that was never home.

For children and teens who have feared and anticipated the separation of their family for their whole lives, it is easy to internalize these misconceptions as reality. As the months progressed, I first fell into that trap. I saw my academic achievements dismissed, and I was encouraged to quit extracurricular activities that I saw as integral to my education and identity.

It was then where I pushed forward. Stubbornly, I ignored the advice to take easier classes and lower my horizons. Instead, I found support in teachers that refused to coddle me. I cherished the few programs that sought out talent among low-income Arizona school districts and used them to help me navigate the complex college application process, where I eventually applied to more than 14 different out-of-state private and public universities.

I learned how to interpret what it meant to have a certain SAT score.

I learned what it meant to receive a certain-sized letter.

I learned how to explain to my father what it meant to be valedictorian and what it meant to get accepted into an Ivy League school.

“Ivy League? You mean I believe?”

Living without my family propelled me to discover the true meaning of tenacity. Still, I am resentful that my hard-working parents couldn’t be here to support and raise me. I am resentful that my brother, an American citizen, had to readjust to a Spanish-speaking school and that at such a young age, the English language that gifted me with bilingualism is slipping through his fingers.

When I graduated high school at the top of  my class, my family was not there to cheer me on, and it is unlikely that they will be there when I graduate from college. However, these challenges inspired me to pursue the education that they worked so tirelessly for me to have. And while I still question whether sacrificing my family was worth it, I know that the tumultuous events that filled my adolescence —the uncertainty of where I would next live, or of when I would be able to see my parents— transformed me into a strong and independent individual.

The politics behind immigration, the gridlock, the lack of reform and the unfulfilled promises, have led to the raids and targeted deportation and separation of thousands of unthreatening immigrant families. We face prejudice and bigotry on behalf of presidential candidates claiming that we are everything but the best while it is those same types of individuals that continue to exploit our people. Under these circumstances, we cannot afford to wait idly for substantive change to occur.

We cannot afford to be submissive. We cannot let our children face disadvantages simply because they are subjected to unconscious biases and misconceptions.

Instead, we must whisper into the ears of every child, as they run into their first day of school, and encourage them to be the best in a country that flourishes when different voices come together. We must remind them, and remind ourselves, of the power in our voices and the potential that we hold.

The system is broken, but we must find every opportunity to make sure that we let America know that we belong here, that we are here to stay and that we will succeed together.

Number of Latinos Moving to Immigrant ‘Hostile States’ Decreased, New Study Says

A new University of Washington/Dartmouth College study published in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers concluded that “hostile states” with restrictive immigration laws witnessed a decrease of Latinos moving to those states from 2008–2010.

Dartmouth’s news release about the study stated that researchers wanted to examine “the effects of state-scale immigration enforcement on internal Latino migration pattern,” using 2000 U.S. Census data and the 2005-2010 American Community Surveys. Referring to classifications from earlier research, this new Washington/Dartmouth study categorized “states into two groups: ‘hostile states,’ which have enacted laws that are restrictive in some way (i.e. Ariz., Ark., Colo., Conn., Fla., Ga., Md., Miss., Mo., N.C., Nev., Okla., Ore., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Va.) and all others (‘non-hostile states’).”

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These were the study’s major findings:

Between 1995 to 2000, the states that were yet to pass laws making life difficult for unauthorized migrants, attracted Latinos disproportionately. In the 1995-2000 period, nascent hostile states experienced a net gain of 47 for every 100 naturalized and non-citizen Latinos, as compared to U.S. born whites during that time, who had a net gain of 20 people per 100 movers in and out of future hostile states.

For the 2005-2007 period, at the onset of the Great Recession, population change due to migration dropped a bit for all four groups but still remained relatively robust.

During the 2008-2010 period when hostile state policies were now in effect, migration redistribution for both U.S.-born and naturalized Latinos fell dramatically to levels close to those of U.S.-born whites. Most notably, in 2008-2010, the redistribution effect of non-citizen Latinos to hostile states came to a halt. Non-citizen Latinos were opting not to move to states that had restrictionist policies in place.

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Examples of restrictionist immigration policies included “universal employment verification” and “mandatory legal status checks for state licensing services.” The study also included examples such as Arizona’s SB 1070 law, whose key provisions were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012.

“Like almost all immigration legislation, these state-scale statutes have had intended and unintended consequences.” said study co-author, Richard Wright, professor of geography at Dartmouth. “They have reduced the attractiveness of these states to the unauthorized, but they have had a serious dampening effect on the migration patterns of Latinos with rights associated with citizenship.”

Rushing to Become Citizens After Anti-Immigrant Talk

All these ads and speeches from presidential candidates warning against “illegal” immigrants haven’t just fired up conservatives. They’re also motivating immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship so that they can vote in this election. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 8.8 million immigrants living in the U.S. are eligible to become citizens. A coalition of immigrant rights groups, led by Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), is working to naturalize one million people in time to vote in November.

Featured image via Alexandra Hall

Child Migrants Fight in Immigration Courts to Stay in US

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Civic Ideas on February 17, 2016, and is the first in a two-part series. We would like to acknowledge Latin America News Dispatch for sending this story our way.

NEW YORK — Congregating on benches in a downtown Manhattan courtroom, children and their guardians listen to a young woman who stands in front of them talking in Spanish. The speaker, Marielos Ramos, is not a judge.

Wielding a dry erase board, several enlarged legal documents mounted on poster board and wry humor, she identifies the legal rights and resources that could help the children to stay in the United States.

“With a good lawyer, you will be able to tell the judge, ‘Yes, he wasn’t born here, he doesn’t have permission to be here now, but he is eligible to get permission,'” Ramos, a child migration counselor with Catholic Charities, explains to the group. “And with this permission, the child can stay here legally and his case can be closed. But you can’t get to this point without a lawyer.”

According to records obtained by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), 52,942 unaccompanied child migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were placed in deportation proceedings in the United States from October 2013 through September 2014. Thousands of these children ended up in New York.

In September 2014, the New York City Council, the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust allocated $1.9 million to fund a coalition of organizations to provide migrant youth with legal services and training sessions to learn their rights. Many of the young migrants qualify for asylum or special visas that would allow them to stay here, but it’s nearly impossible to access these forms of relief from deportation without legal representation.

These children and adolescents were among the surge of migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014. Most were trying to reunite with family in the United States or to flee violence in their countries from a combination of gang activity, police crackdowns and vigilante justice.

Unaccompanied child migrants from countries that do not border the United States are protected from immediate deportation by federal law, the 2008 Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act. Instead, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is required to turn youth over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours. The ORR then settles them with sponsors or in shelters throughout the country as they await their immigration hearings.

While the law slows down the process of deportation, young migrants still face a race against time to find lawyers before their hearings. TRAC indicates that more than 50 percent of youth placed in deportation proceedings since Oct. 1, 2013, lost this race, going unrepresented.

Ramos’ presentation is part of the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Alien Children launched by the EOIR in 2010. Catholic Charities is one of several organizations in New York that received a mix of public and private funding to provide training to children and their guardians about immigration court and acquiring free or low-cost legal representation for their deportation cases.

“When kids aren’t given lawyers, not surprisingly, their rights aren’t fully protected,” said Brett Stark, co-founder of Terra Firma, a medical-legal partnership program that focuses on immigrant youth in New York. According to the TRAC database, a child migrant without a legal expert in her corner only has a 10 percent chance of winning relief from deportation. With a lawyer, her odds jump to 80 percent.

In response to inquiries about the issue of unrepresented child migrants, Kathryn Mattingly, assistant press secretary for the EOIR, said over email that judges often ask minors and their sponsors during the first hearing if they would like more time to find legal representation. She added that they provide them with a list of pro-bono attorneys who might be able to help them.

The children and guardians attending Ramos’s courtroom presentation commuted from all over New York City and Long Island that day to attend their initial deportation hearings. Most of the defendants —the youngest of whom was 4 years old— had been in the country for a matter of weeks. Hardly any of the families had found an attorney, but the judge did issue them a second hearing date to give them more time.

Ramos said that fear of attending the first hearing without representation convinces some families to stay home. In her orientation, she said that this creates problems with the judges. She laid out for the group what would be likely to happen: “The boy or girl did not show up: order of deportation. When they find them, they’ll send them home.”

The TRAC database demonstrates that one fifth of the Central American migrants under the age of 18 were issued removal orders to their home countries between October 2013 and September 2014. Ninety percent of them had no lawyer to represent them.

For the youth deported in absentia, Mattingly says that the removals are justified. When a young migrant fails to show up to a hearing, they may be deported “in absentia if the immigration judge was satisfied that the respondent had notice of the time and place of their hearing, and that the Department of Homeland Security proved its case of the respondent’s removability,” said Mattingly.

This is why Ramos said that in New York, organizations working with unaccompanied migrants encourage them —increasingly with outreach phone calls before their hearings— to show up at the courthouse. Once there, they can usually meet legal experts from organizations such as The Door or Catholic Charities for an initial case screening. This is generally the first step to finding attorneys to represent them.

Most young migrants who obtain representation and secure legal status work with a lawyer to file for asylum or apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Some have strong cases for both while others are clear candidates for one or the other.

For youth who left their countries to escape violence and are filing for asylum, the Department of Justice requires that they demonstrate “past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,” according to a 1987 Supreme Court precedent.

Jaya Ramji-Nogales, co-director of the Institute for International Law and Public Policy at Temple University, said that persecution can be hard to prove if an applicant left her country before threats of violence were acted upon. “If someone’s been harmed by the gangs, before they came to the United States, they’re really much more likely to be granted asylum than people who are fleeing without getting hurt, sadly,” said Ramji-Nogales.

Stark is critical of the limitations surrounding asylum eligibility. “There’s still a gap, chasm, a divide between the reality of fearing for your life, and a lack of a bridge, in some cases, to an existing area of support under asylum law,” he said. He felt that this partially defeated its purpose, saying that “the idea of refugee law is not to protect as few people as possible; it’s to protect as many as we can who need help.”

If a young migrant can show that he has been neglected, abused or abandoned by a parent, he may apply for SIJS. Rather than going through a regional asylum office and facing a prosecutor, the SIJS process is partly handled in family court. Stark said that this is better for some youth because family courts “are naturally much more child friendly, and much more — at least by law and by design — open to hearing testimony about the home.” This gives young migrants the chance to provide more context about their lives that will be deemed relevant to their cases for remaining in the country.

While SIJS is generally a faster way to obtain permanent residency, known as a green card, it also has its limitations. Ramos explained to the group at the courthouse that a child who obtains legal status under this process will never be able to petition for a visa for a parent in order to help them get their own green card.

Ramos said that young migrants arriving in New York are lucky compared with their peers who end up in states with fewer resources for their particular needs. “At least New York has this system that we have a project that’s actually working with kids,” she said. “But then we have other places where they’re going… and there’s nothing there.” These are the kids who are most in danger of missing their hearings and receiving orders of deportation.

“The system just really needs more resources to take care of these kids adequately,” Ramji-Nogales said. “We’ve put so many resources into securing the border and just not sufficient resources into making sure we can have an adequate process for these folks.”

Undocumented Parents Face Unequal Volunteer Opportunities in Pennsylvania Schools

Written by Joanna Bernstein for LatinoRebels.com

For some undocumented parents living in Pennsylvania, the opportunity to volunteer at their children’s schools is a privilege, not a guarantee.

In Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, the public school district explicitly states undocumented parents can volunteer inside their children’s schools, provided they pass necessary background checks. District policy continues to be that undocumented parents must obtain the same Pennsylvania State Criminal History Record Check and Child Abuse Report as documented parents. Most important, the district does not require parents of any immigration status to obtain a background check from the FBI, provided that no previous convictions show up in the those two checks. Only if a previous conviction is revealed from the two primary background checks is the parent’s information turned over to the FBI for federal investigation.

Some 300 miles west, however, lies the state’s second largest city, Pittsburgh. Its public school district does not afford undocumented parents the same opportunities as their counterparts in Philadelphia, and are prohibited from volunteering.

During the planning of a “Know Your Rights” event which involved a Pittsburgh school partnering with Friends of Farmworkers, a legal advocacy organization for immigrants based in Philadelphia that just recently opened an office in Pittsburgh, I asked the school’s administration if they had many Latino parents volunteer at the school, hoping to gauge the current level of civic engagement taking place at the education level. The answer was essentially no, but there was an asterisk: “because they can’t.”

“What do you mean they can’t?” I immediately retorted, both confused and surprised.

A long-time social worker from the school and a community organizer from another local group working directly with the district explained that it was literally not possible for the district to conduct the necessary background checks on undocumented parents because “they don’t have driver’s licenses or Social Security cards.” The organizer added on a separate occasion, “We don’t want to send any undocumented people’s information to the feds.”

Read more at Latino Rebels

American Siblings in a Family Divided by Law

As immigration continues to be front and center, much of the conversation around this topic leaves out the more than four million U.S. citizen children who have at least one undocumented parent. Data show these children are at a disadvantage in education, health and economic opportunities. No matter what side of the immigration debates one takes, these are American citizens…the next generation of police officers, school teachers, doctors and army soldiers.

Jim, Bill, Naomi and Bobby de la Rosa are seeing how the unintended consequences of immigration policies affect their lives.

These siblings live in Tucson, Arizona. They are U.S. citizens and so is their father, but their mother lacks legal status in this country.

This story offers a glimpse into the challenges they face.

Featured image: Naomi and Bobby sleep on the same bed most nights, they are each other’s best friends. The siblings are the two youngest in a family of four American citizens affected by U.S. immigration policies. (Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star)

The original version of this story, Divided by Law was produced by Fernanda Echávarri for Arizona Public Media for a project that was done in collaboration with The Arizona Daily Star. The original story was co-reported with Perla Trevizo and all photography was done by Mike Christy, both of The Arizona Daily Star.

Cruz and Rubio Spar Over Immigration (Again) at #GOPDebate

Continuing a theme they started in the last Republican debate, senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both sons of Cuban immigrants, had another testy exchange over immigration at last night’s debate in South Carolina. The tone of last night’s comments positioned immigration policy as a national security issue, a far cry from the bipartisan 2012 “Gang of Eight” bill, which Rubio supported.

Lawyers Succeed in Protecting 33 Mothers and Children from Immediate Deportation

This afternoon, Latino USA received the following information from the CARA Pro Bono Project, a partnership of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), the American Immigration Council (Council), and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). We decided to publish the press statement in its entirety:

In the last week, 121 mothers and children were brought to the South Texas Residential Family Center in Dilley, Texas, after being rounded up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project reviewed the cases of 13 families, filed appeals for 12, and won stays of removal from the Board of Immigration Appeals for all 12 families – 33 mothers and children. While this is a major victory for these families, the troubling fact remains that many, who very likely also had claims for relief, were swiftly deported without the chance to consult with CARA staff or volunteers. The 12 families for whom CARA obtained stays were fleeing extreme domestic violence or targeted for recruitment, kidnapping, assault, or extortion by transnational criminal organizations.

We now call on the Obama Administration to release the families confined at Dilley pending their appeals. The continued detention of these children and mothers violates well-established law regarding the treatment of immigrant children, as reflected in the Flores Settlement Agreement. CARA Managing Attorney Katie Shepherd explains,

“Under Flores, the government may not hold children in unlicensed, secure detention centers like Dilley. The children should be released immediately, with their mothers, as the law requires. The plight of these families, victims of ICE’s recent raids, highlights more pervasive problems with our immigration system. The Obama Administration’s troubling approach toward refugee families needs to be rethought, beginning with the immediate closure of its current family detention centers.”

The CARA Project team served as the last hope for these families. Their successful stays of deportation raise serious concerns about the glaring due process violations that deprive bona fide asylum seekers of a meaningful opportunity to present their claims. Every single mother for whom the CARA Project filed an appeal had been denied due process in one or more ways, including:

Cases thrown on a “rocket docket,” leaving no time for their attorneys, if they were able to secure legal representation, to compile the evidence required;

Lack of information on what the process was and what their obligations were;

Officials pressuring them to sign legal documents without access to counsel;

Arrest and detention after they had cooperated with every single requirement ICE had mandated.

The government’s decision to round up Central American families over New Year’s weekend and its refusal to disavow such aggressive enforcement tactics against vulnerable mothers and children continues to reverberate across the United States and beyond. President Obama must fully acknowledge that these families deserve humanitarian protection rather than punishment. The Obama Administration has consistently refused to recognize and treat these families as refugees and has erected enormous obstacles again and again in an effort to deter future asylum seekers. This is a shameful choice that contradicts our own laws and our history as a nation of immigrants.

CARA looks forward to receiving details from the government regarding plans to partner with the United Nations to assist refugees fleeing Central American violence. But, in order to live up to our country’s values and principles, real solutions need to be sought and implemented for those fleeing violence who reach our borders, including meaningful access to counsel and full due process, as well as an immediate end to family detention. Additionally, the administration should immediately protect this vulnerable population from deportation by granting humanitarian parole, Temporary Protected Status, or another form of relief.

O’Malley, Sanders Continue to Pressure Obama Administration’s Deportation Plan

Following up on Christmas Eve statements sharply criticizing news that the Department of Homeland Security was planning to increase deportation raids on Central American families who entered the United States after 2014, Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have continued to apply pressure on the Obama administration to quickly change its course.

Last night, O’Malley campaign senior advisor Gabriela Domenzain tweeted O’Malley’s remarks from Nevada, where O’Malley proposed the extension of Temporary Protective Status for individuals from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

According to the federal government, Temporary Protective Status (TPS) is granted to individuals “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” Countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are some of the most violent countries in Latin America. Earlier today, USA Today called El Salvador “the world’s new murder capital.”

O’Malley also had strong words this past weekend in Iowa at a campaign event, where he said the following: “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?”

This morning, Sanders used his Senate credentials to write a letter to President Obama, where he called on the administration to stop all raids:

Raids are not the answer. 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 and humane solutions

Sanders also called for an extension of TPS. This is the full letter, which was also delivered to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña:

Deportation Raids Letter to President Obama by Latino USA

After releasing the Obama letter online, Sanders’ official Senate Twitter account tweeted the following:

Latino USA emailed the Hillary Clinton campaign about the Sanders letter and O’Malley’s Nevada remarks. As of this posting, the campaign has yet to respond. On December 24, Clinton campaign spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said in a statement that Clinton has “real concerns” about the initial reports of new deportation plans.

She believes it is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it And we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues.

Featured images: Martin O’Malley (l) speaking at an immigration roundtable in Phoenix, Arizona (Gage Skidmore); Bernie Sanders at a rally in New Orleans, Louisiana, 2015 (Nick Solari)

DHS Secretary: ‘If You Come Here Illegally, We Will Send You Back Consistent With Our Laws and Values’

In response to reports this weekend of increased deportation raids of Central American families, the Department of Homeland Security released the following January 4 statement from Secretary Jeh C. Johnson.

Southwest Border Security

As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.

In the spring and summer of 2014 we faced a significant spike in families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross our southern border illegally. In response, we took a number of actions in collaboration with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the numbers declined dramatically. In Fiscal Year 2015, the number of apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol of those attempting to cross our southern border illegally –an indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally– decreased to 331,333. With the exception of one year, this was the lowest number of apprehensions on our southern border since 1972. In recent months, however, the rate of apprehensions on our southern border has begun to climb again.

In November 2014, I issued new priorities for immigration enforcement as part of the President’s immigration accountability executive actions. These new Department-wide priorities focus our enforcement resources on convicted criminals and threats to public safety. These new enforcement priorities also focus on border security, namely the removal of those apprehended at the border or who came here illegally after January 1, 2014.

We must enforce the law in accordance with these priorities, and secure our borders.

Accordingly, the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with our domestic and international partners, is undertaking the following actions:

Removals. Since the summer of 2014 we have removed and repatriated migrants to Central America at an increased rate, averaging about 14 flights a week. Most of those returned have been single adults.

This past weekend, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children. This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.

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. As part of these operations, 121 individuals were taken into custody, primarily from Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, and they are now in the process of being repatriated. To effect removal, most families are first being transported to one of ICE’s family residential centers for temporary processing before being issued travel documents and boarding a return flight to their home countries.

Given the sensitive nature of taking into custody and removing families with children, a number of precautions were taken as part of this weekend’s operations. ICE deployed from around the country a number of female agents and medical personnel to take part in the operations, and, in the course of the operations, ICE exercised prosecutorial discretion in a number of cases for health or other personal reasons.

This enforcement action was overseen by Sarah Saldaña, the Director of ICE, and supported and executed by Thomas Homan, a career law enforcement official who leads ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations.

At my direction, additional enforcement operations such as these will continue to occur as appropriate.

Increasing border security.We are continuing to enhance our border security resources and capabilities, working closely with state and local counterparts. As a result of our long-term investment in border security over the past 15 years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has greater capability to identify and interdict illegal crossings than at any time in our Nation’s history. This includes the largest deployment of vehicles, aircraft, boats, and equipment along the southwest border in the 90-year history of the Border Patrol.  And through the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Plan we launched in early 2015, we are for the first time putting to use in a combined and strategic way the assets and personnel of CBP, ICE, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Coast Guard to better protect the border.

In response to the recent increases in migrant flows along the southwest border, CBP has deployed additional permanent Border Patrol Agents to high-traffic areas, augmented operations in South Texas with Mobile Response Teams, and redirected support from other Border Patrol sectors including through remote interviewing technology.  CBP has also increased surveillance capabilities by adding tethered aerostats (long-range radars) and other technology, along with additional aircraft. CBP will sustain these heightened border security efforts, along with the humanitarian aspects of its responsibilities, while the current migration levels persist.

Unaccompanied children. As the number of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border has risen again in recent months, DHS has continued our close coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as it increases its capacity to care for unaccompanied minors and place them with sponsors. Our goal is to ensure that CBP has the continued capability to quickly and efficiently transfer unaccompanied minors after they are apprehended to HHS custody, as is required by U.S. law. In the past month, HHS added over 1,000 beds for this purpose, and recently announced that another estimated 1,800 beds will be available soon. HHS is continuing to explore options for additional beds if necessary.

Cracking down on criminal smugglers. In the summer of 2014, the Deputy Attorney General and I announced “Operation Coyote” to crack down on those involved in the criminal smuggling of migrants from Central America and elsewhere. Since then, 1,022 smugglers and their associates have been arrested, and hundreds of bank accounts have been seized.

With the Department of Justice, we are now doubling down on these efforts. This will build on existing initiatives such as ICE’s Human Smuggling Cell, which is working with the financial industry to target and disrupt the flow of funds to human smuggling organizations. DHS’s recently formed Joint Task Forces, JTF-West and JTF-Investigations, will coordinate the deployment of additional DHS investigative and prosecutorial resources and their integration into the Department of Justice’s ongoing law enforcement and prosecution operations.

Cooperation with Mexico. We are expanding our cooperation with Mexico in dealing with illicit migration. In particular, we are working with our Mexican partners to enhance joint efforts on our shared border, to support Mexico’s efforts on its southern border, and to shut down the criminal groups and illegal support networks that exploit vulnerable migrants. DHS and the Department of State will also continue to support the Merida Initiative, the longstanding partnership between the United States and Mexico to fight organized crime and associated violence.

Expanding the public messaging campaign. DHS and the Department of State are expanding our existing messaging campaign in Central America, Mexico, and the United States to educate those considering making the journey north, as well as their families abroad, about the dangerous realities of the journey. The messaging will also highlight the recent enforcement operations.

The Flores case. We continue to disagree with the District Court decision in the Flores case that a 1997 settlement of a case solely involving unaccompanied children now applies to children who arrive with a parent and their processing at today’s family residential centers. The decision, and the resulting injunction, significantly constrains our ability to respond to an increasing flow of illegal migration into the United States. We have appealed the decision, and the appellate court has agreed to hear the appeal on an expedited basis. Meanwhile, we have implemented significant reforms to how we operate our family residential centers to transition them to temporary processing facilities for these individuals, and have taken steps to ensure compliance with the District Court’s July 24 and August 21 orders.

Creating an alternative, safe and legal path. Finally, to effectively address this situation, we recognize that we must offer alternatives to those who are fleeing the poverty and violence in Central America. More border security and removals, by themselves, will not overcome the underlying conditions that currently exist in Central America. I am pleased that Congress, in the recently-enacted omnibus spending bill, included $750 million in aid for Central America.

In the meantime, DHS and the Department of State are accelerating the development of new mechanisms to process and screen Central American refugees in the region, about which we hope to make a more formal announcement soon. We will expand access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program in the region and develop more legal alternatives to the dangerous and unlawful journey many are currently taking in the hands of human smugglers.

These new refugee processing mechanisms will build upon the existing Central American Minors Program, which is already providing an in-country refugee processing option for certain children with parents lawfully in the United States.  Thus far, we have received more than 6,000 applications for the Program, some children have begun to arrive in the United States as part of the Program, and we expect the pace of arrivals to increase steadily moving forward. We are also engaging other countries in the region, encouraging them to join us in broadening access to protection for refugees from Central America.

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I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say these actions don’t go far enough. I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause. But, we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities. At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity.

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