DHS Secretary Releases Statement on Southwest Border Security in Light of Removals
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson released a statement on January 4, 2016, on southwest border security, in light of stepped-up removal operations underway.
Secretary Johnson noted that in the spring and summer of 2014, a significant spike occurred in families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross the U.S. southern border without authorization. In response, he noted, DHS took a number of actions in collaboration with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the numbers declined dramatically. In FY 2015, he said, the number of apprehensions by U.S. Border Patrol of those attempting to cross the southern border without authorization decreased to 331,333. With the exception of one year, this was the lowest number of apprehensions on the southern border since 1972, he noted. In recent months, however, the rate of apprehensions on the southern border has begun to climb again, he said.
Secretary Johnson noted that the focus of the recent 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 U.S. laws. As part of these operations, he said, 121 individuals were taken into custody, primarily from Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, and they are now in the process of being removed from the United States and repatriated. Most of these 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.
He said a number of precautions were taken as part of these operations. Among other things, ICE “exercised prosecutorial discretion in a number of cases for health or other personal reasons,” he noted.
Various individuals and groups have criticized the controversial removal operations, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-Cal.) said, “Our federal government should not be separating parents from their children. As the mother of a young son, it’s easy for me to imagine how traumatizing having ICE agents storm someone’s home and tearing families apart can be for a young child. Invading homes is inhumane and adds to the trauma of these families fleeing violence and oppression.” And Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said, “We hear that children are not going to school and parents are not going to work out of fear. Not even a week into the New Year and 2016 has turned into one of fear and hiding. But let us be very clear. Deporting families will not resolve the violence and corruption that push people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to risk assault, rape, and murder to seek refuge in the United States.”
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she “believes we should not be conducting large-scale raids and roundups that sow fear and division in our communities.” On the Republican side, however, candidate Donald Trump took credit for the Obama administration’s decision to conduct the raids.
On January 15, 2016, protesters came to the White House. A group of Central American organizations posted a statement against the “inhumane” raids. The Guatemalan Foreign Relations Ministry released a list of steps in Spanish for migrants in the United States who encounter U.S. immigration officials, and the Guatemalan and Salvadoran governments released statements against the raids. The Honduran government, however, reportedly did not join in the protests.
There have been business ramifications too, as people across the country stay inside due to fears and perceptions of random targeting. According to news reports, for example, shop owners in Wheaton, Maryland, have complained that it has become difficult to cover rent and other bills because many fewer Latinos are out shopping. One owner of a popular Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant said that normally she sees around 300 customers per day but now she is only getting about 20. “Customers were telling me that the rumor was, ‘Don’t come to Wheaton. ICE is in the neighborhood,” she said. Another shop owner said that his business income has dropped by 50 to 60 percent since the beginning of 2016.
Montgomery County, Maryland, which includes Wheaton, said that local police will not cooperate with the raids. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett called the raids “ill-founded and counter-productive.” County leaders expressed concerns that people are staying home from work and school, and are afraid to call the police when a crime is committed. On the other side, Corey Stewart, the board chair of Prince William County, Virginia, who is the leader of Mr. Trump’s campaign in Virginia, said, “I’m going to do the very best that I can to encourage illegal aliens who want to commit crimes to leave Prince William County, in fact to leave Virginia all together, [and] go up to Maryland, because you’re welcome up there.”