Bernie Sanders Calls For an End to Mass Deportation Raids of Central American Immigrants

Sanders claims the Obama administration’s raids of Central American families and children are inconsistent with American values—and must be stopped. Hillary Clinton’s past support of such deportations sets her apart.

Miles Kampf-Lassin January 7, 2016

Sanders has told the Obama administration, "I urge you to immediately cease these raids and not deport families back to countries where a death sentence awaits.” (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

This past Novem­ber, with dozens of Repub­li­can gov­er­nors call­ing for Syr­i­an refugees to be denied entry into the Unites States, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma stood firm­ly in defense of admit­ting those flee­ing vio­lence and the ter­rors of war. Dur­ing a speech at the G20 eco­nom­ic sum­mit in Antalya, Turkey on Nov. 16, he said: Slam­ming the door in their faces would be a betray­al of our values.”

The fact that the U.S. government is now forcing these families who survived the horrendous journey and settled in America to deport back to the same horrific conditions which led them to flee their home countries has immigration activists up in arms.

Yet this month, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion launched a dev­as­tat­ing sweep of large-scale raids of Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrants in the Unit­ed Sates, aimed at round­ing-up and deport­ing fam­i­lies and unac­com­pa­nied chil­dren who crossed the bor­der seek­ing refuge from vio­lence and ter­rors in their own home countries. 

This pol­i­cy has been defend­ed by Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son who stat­ed that indi­vid­u­als who con­sti­tute enforce­ment pri­or­i­ties, includ­ing fam­i­lies and unac­com­pa­nied chil­dren, will be removed.” And it has gained the smug approval of Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and known-big­ot Don­ald Trump, who tweet­ed, Does every­one see that the Democ­rats and Pres­i­dent Oba­ma are now, because of me, start­ing to deport peo­ple who are here ille­gal­ly. Politics!”

But anoth­er pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has now offi­cial­ly called for the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to end these depor­ta­tion raids of Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrants and defend vul­ner­a­ble immi­grant fam­i­lies”: Bernie Sanders.

In a let­ter sent today from Sanders to Sec­re­tary John­son, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date states unequiv­o­cal­ly that, 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 claims that rather than deport­ing these fam­i­lies, the admin­is­tra­tion should seek to pro­vide them pro­tec­tion and employ­ment with­in the Unit­ed States. A state­ment from his cam­paign explains:

Cit­ing the extreme vio­lence that these fam­i­lies face, Sanders urged the admin­is­tra­tion to use exec­u­tive author­i­ty to pro­tect those flee­ing unsafe coun­tries in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca by extend­ing Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus. By grant­i­ng Tem­po­rary Pro­tect­ed Sta­tus, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty could pro­vide employ­ment autho­riza­tion and pro­tec­tion from depor­ta­tion for a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of these vul­ner­a­ble people.”

Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mar­tin O’Malley has also called for the Unit­ed States to extend tem­po­rary pro­tec­tive sta­tus to these migrants, claim­ing that the raids are not con­sis­tent with who we are as a coun­try. We must stop rip­ping fam­i­lies apart and once and for all put an end to these mind­less deportations.”

Hillary Clinton’s cam­paign is not cur­rent­ly call­ing for an end to the pol­i­cy, though her spokesper­son Jorge Sil­va has voiced oppo­si­tion to large-scale raids and roundups.” Her cam­paign has stat­ed that the can­di­date has real con­cerns about these reports.” 

The Wash­ing­ton Office on Latin Amer­i­ca has called the plight fac­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrants one of the most severe human­i­tar­i­an crises in the West­ern Hemisphere”. 

Many of those cur­rent­ly fac­ing depor­ta­tion entered the Unit­ed States as part of the surge” of Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrants dur­ing the sum­mer of 2014. As Joseph Sor­renti­no report­ed for In These Times in June, the tens of thou­sands of fam­i­lies flee­ing dire pover­ty and vio­lence in Hon­duras, Nicaragua and oth­er Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries face rou­tine rape, assault, extor­tion, abduc­tion and mur­der as they cross Mex­i­co to reach the Unit­ed States. And, as the New York Times con­firmed, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has giv­en the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to make sure that these migrants are not allowed to make it to the Amer­i­can border. 

The fact that the U.S. gov­ern­ment is now forc­ing these fam­i­lies who sur­vived the hor­ren­dous jour­ney and set­tled in Amer­i­ca to deport back to the same hor­rif­ic con­di­tions which caused them to flee their home coun­tries has immi­gra­tion activists up in arms. 

Frank Shar­ry, a lead­ing advo­cate for immi­gra­tion reform with America’s Voice, tells the Atlantic, I think the administration’s approach is fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed. They are treat­ing a refugee cri­sis as an immi­gra­tion enforce­ment issue.”

A let­ter to Sec­re­tary John­son signed by more than 100 immi­grant advo­ca­cy groups across the coun­try claims that a very high pro­por­tion of the Cen­tral Amer­i­can moth­ers and chil­dren now tar­get­ed for ICE raids have sur­vived sex­u­al assault or oth­er forms of extreme vio­lence and have mourned the loss of close fam­i­ly mem­bers to par­tic­u­lar­ized vio­lence.” The let­ter con­tin­ues, claim­ing: Moth­ers and chil­dren who wit­nessed and sur­vived arrest, tor­ture, and mur­der of fam­i­ly mem­bers, and attempts on their own lives, will be gross­ly re-trau­ma­tized by ICE raids.”

Already, the nation’s high­est immi­gra­tion court has announced that it will tem­porar­i­ly halt the depor­ta­tions of 12 Cen­tral Amer­i­can women and chil­dren fol­low­ing claims that raids were car­ried out in the night with­out ICE agents prop­er­ly pre­sent­ing war­rants or allow­ing legal coun­sel. Yet the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion plans to car­ry on with the con­tro­ver­sial policy.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has gained a rep­u­ta­tion as deporter-in-chief” for his record of hav­ing deport­ed more immi­grants than any oth­er pres­i­dent in U.S. his­to­ry. As his sec­ond and final term nears a close, these mass raids may serve to cement his lega­cy as a pres­i­dent who chose depor­ta­tion over com­pas­sion to guide Amer­i­can immi­gra­tion policy.

But 2017 will see a new occu­pant of the White House. And two of the Democ­rats vying for the posi­tion — Bernie Sanders and Mar­tin O’Malley — have now made clear that they believe this pol­i­cy of raid­ing and deport­ing those flee­ing vio­lence is unjust and inhu­mane — and should be end­ed. The His­pan­ic vote will be cru­cial in the upcom­ing elec­tion, and while Clin­ton still remains the front-run­ner, her pre­vi­ous state­ments that deport­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­can migrant chil­dren would send a respon­si­ble mes­sage” to deter fam­i­lies from send­ing them to the Unit­ed States may come back to haunt her this pri­ma­ry season. 

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Gal­latin School in Delib­er­a­tive Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al­iza­tion, is a Web Edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MilesKLassin

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