The women and children were treated ‘inhumanely’ and not given access to a lawyer – campaigners say enforcement agents broke the law
.Rachael Revesz New York. Monday 1 February 2016
Campaign groups have spoken out against the “terrifying” and “needlessly aggressive” law enforcement round-ups across several US states of immigrant women and children, separating them from their families and ignoring their legal rights.
A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights has revealed the way Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents forced their way into the women’s homes, failed to provide warrants for their arrests and took the immigrants on long journeys to a deportation centre in Texas without allowing them access to a lawyer.
CE agents often lied or used aggression to enter people’s homes, including using the pretense of asking the women to identify a picture of an African American man. They asked them to sign legal documents which they could not read, did not allow them to make telephone calls, and have illegally held children in detention centers for more than 20 days, which is prohibited under a settlement agreement in Flores v. Johnson. The Department of Homeland Security, however, has contested that this case is also applied to children who are accompanied by an adult.
The latest round-up started in the early morning of 2 January across Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.
“[…] it’s an approach that has trampled legal rights, subjected mothers and children to terrifying and unnecessary police encounters, and torn families apart,” the report read.
One victim was 31-year-old Ana Lizeth Mejia Gutierrez, who fled to the US from Honduras with her 10-year-old son in 2014. In January they were separated from their family despite her regular meetings with the ICE and her ankle shackle, which constantly verifies her location.
Eight officers barged into her house without a warrant and forced her to go on a near-1000 mile journey to Texas. She finally managed to meet a lawyer at the detention center.
“My son has been scared, and cries at night. He is not eating. … I don’t understand why we were taken in a raid, especially in that way,” she said.
The report’s recommendations include that raids are stopped, as well as stopping the detention of children, which it describes as “costly, unnecessary and inhumane”.
The report also recommends free and accessible legal representation for asylum seekers and immigrants, and to conduct investigations into possible “constitutional violations” carried out by ICE agents.
An ICE spokeswoman told The Independent: “ICE is currently reviewing the report. We take any allegations of wrongdoing seriously and will investigate accordingly. ICE conducts targeted enforcement actions in full accordance with federal law and agency policy.”
On 4 January the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said the raids two days prior should have «come as no surprise» and the round-ups were targeted towards illegal immigrants who had no other course of legal action at their disposal to stay in the US – otherwise known as exhausting their legal options – and would be sent back on a plane to Central America. The above report from the SPLC contested this claim, and said many of the 121 immigrants had not exhausted their options to stay in the US.
Mr Johnson added that due to the circumstances of deporting women and children, «a number» of female agents and medical staff were involved in the operation. He also pointed to $750 million of government aid that was given to Central America.
«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,» he said in the statement. «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.»
This month a bi-partisan Senate probe has looked into the “systematic” vulnerability of immigrant children who come to the US, after the widely reported case last year of children who were forced into slave labour on an egg farm in Ohio.