Legal advocates are accusing immigration enforcement authorities of obstructing their efforts to delay removal orders of at least 45 Central American mothers and children arrested in a series of new deportation raids targeting recently arrived asylum seekers.
The immigration raids, which advocates say have begun in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Rhode Island and South Dakota, will target asylum seekers who fled crime and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras but were denied asylum in the United States and ordered removed by a judge.
But some of the women and children have valid claims to asylum and were denied the right to due process, said Laura Lichter, general counsel and past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Lichter and other advocates are asking the courts to stay the asylum seekers' deportation orders, she said, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is dragging its feet.
"They seem to be treating this as 'Ha, ha, ha,'" Richter said in an interview. "It's like, 'If you can't get their claims filed by the time we move the body, then tough.'"
The agency has been unresponsive to requests for documentation necessary to file deportation appeals, Lichter said, even though some of the individuals have compelling cases.
"These are decent cases, they're all winnable," said Lichter, adding that ICE is "almost begging for litigation."
One Guatemalan woman, who Lichter said is completely illiterate, was arrested and scheduled for deportation even though she could not have possibly been granted due process, Lichter said, because she is fluent only in Q'anjob'al, an indigenous Mayan language spoken in parts of Central America.
Katie Shepherd, the managing attorney for the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Legal Project, the consortium of advocacy organizations representing the 45 individuals, said one family was "swiftly" deported specifically because ICE knew they had begun the process of appealing their removal order.
"It is outrageous that, knowing that [the mother's] appeal was in the works and that she had expressed a fear of return, ICE chose to hustle the family out of the detention center in the dark of night and put them on a plane before the courthouse doors opened," said Shepherd in a statement.
An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment on Lichter's accusations, referring to the agency's previous stance that those targeted in the raids are recent arrivals to the United States "who have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or pending claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws."
Hundreds of thousands of families and unaccompanied children have claimed asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2014. The Homeland Security Department confirmed it arrested 121 individuals in raids over two days in January.
Author: Dean DeChiaro
Source: CQ Roll Call