PHILADELPHIA, PA (January 5, 2016) In the wake of a series of controversial immigration raids to detain and deport Central American asylum seekers, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson released a statement defending the Obama Administration’s actions. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an organization that has worked with immigrants and refugees for almost a century, says the justification for raids fails to address root causes of migration or offer real solutions, and that the raids must be stopped.
Over the last 15 years, the number of migrants from Central America has steadily increased, as people flee violence in their home countries. The recent round of raids are directed at individuals who have arrived in the U.S. within the last two years; the majority are families who presented themselves to law enforcement at the border and asked for asylum.
“The asylum system is vital for many people fleeing persecution, but without access to legal counsel, families and children with a legitimate claim to asylum are much more likely to have their claim denied,” said Kathryn Johnson, AFSC’s policy impact coordinator. “The decision to go after families applying for asylum discourages people who are fleeing persecution from coming forward.”
Secretary Johnson asserts that the agency must enforce the law consistent with its own priorities. But according to AFSC’s Human Migration and Mobility Director Layla Razavi, “the president has prosecutorial discretion to create enforcement priorities. Unfortunately, the administration has chosen to focus on people who are most vulnerable and who fear being returned to a country where they face persecution. It’s an intimidation tactic of the worst kind.”
DHS has said the raids will be carried out carefully. “The notion that there’s a way to conduct a raid that would not be traumatizing for families and young children is pure fantasy,” says Razavi. “Coming into the homes of families in the early morning and whisking away loved ones inherently traumatizes the individual who is deported, along with everyone who is forced to bear witness—especially since many of the people apprehended in these raids have already suffered various forms of trauma and violence.”
DHS also touts its increased enforcement tools along the border. But advocates say that the money the agency has poured into U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) over the past 15 years has resulted in the militarization of communities along the border — leading to violations of the human rights of immigrants and people living in border communities, but failing to address the reasons migration happens in the first place.
DHS points to U.S. aid to Central American countries, asserting that this aid is an effort to address the root causes of migration. According to AFSC’s Kathryn Johnson, U.S. military and economic policy in Central America play a major role in driving migration, and until these policies are changed, people will continue to leave their home countries in search of refuge.
“Based on past experience, we have little faith that either U.S. security or development assistance to Central America will effectively address poverty or insecurity. The U.S.-led drug war and security policies in Central America have bolstered the influence of criminal gangs and contributed to astronomically high homicide rates in each of these countries. Development assistance has been distributed with a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach which does not respond to local needs or contexts, but instead bolsters U.S. foreign policy objectives.”
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Layla Razavi, AFSC, LRazavi@afsc.org, 858-229-9623
The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.