Immigrants' rights groups marched in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday against the Obama administration's planned mass deportations of refugee and migrant families.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is preparing a series of raids in a large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America and sought refuge in the U.S., the Washington Post revealed in a recent report. Murder rates in Central American countries like El Salvador are at a record high, but the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to expel asylum-seekers fleeing this violence.
Migrants' rights organizations have condemned the plans by the immigration enforcement department. Characterizing the planned raids on refugees fleeing violence as a form of "terrorism," the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) said "advocates across the region are scrambling to prepare terrorized local communities."
"The Obama administration's alleged plan to launch a nationwide campaign of mass deportations is horrific and unacceptable," said FIRM spokeswoman Kica Matos.
"During a time of the year when families are celebrating with their loved ones, our administration is planning to raid people's homes, terrorize families, and split them apart," she continued. "These families will then be returned to places they are fleeing from for fear of being killed, raped, or tortured."
If Department Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson "continues with this plan," Matos insisted, "he will be responsible for the possible death or harm of innocent people — including women and children, and the permanent separation of families."
Legal organizations and experts have questioned whether proposed mass deportations of refugees is permissible under international law, which guarantees refugees particular rights.
Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, remarked in response to customs enforcement's plans, "This administration has never acknowledged the truth: that these families are refugees seeking asylum who should be given humanitarian protection rather than being detained or rounded up. When other countries are welcoming far more refugees, the U.S. should be ashamed for using jails and even contemplating large-scale deportation tactics."
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, has made similar statements. "It is time that the administration acknowledge once and for all that these mothers and children are refugees just like Syrians," she said.
The migrants' rights activists began their protest Wednesday in front of the national headquarters of the Democratic Party.
The activists then marched to the offices of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to continue the protest.
They concluded their march with a rally in front of the White House.
"I came fleeing the violence and poverty in my country. I arrived with new hope for my life," said a man who spoke at the rally, according to CASA, an immigrant advocacy group in the D.C. metro area.
"When I came to the U.S. I thought I had found peace, but now [U.S. customs enforcement] wants to send me to certain death," the man continued. "Stop this inhumane plan."
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which supported the demonstration, asked the homeland security department to "keep families together."
"My daughter came from violence and was greeted with violence," added a woman who spoke at the demonstration. "My daughter came here fleeing violence against women. When she arrived, they treated her like a criminal."
"Obama, remember you are also a father and a husband. Keep our families together. We are refugees," she said.
"These people who are coming are children. They are refugees, if they are deported, they will be killed," added another speaker.
The protest was endorsed by a wide coalition of groups, including OneAmerica, Church World Service, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, and organizations from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Illinois, Oregon, Maine and more.
Although supporters of the Obama administration say the president has done his best to protect migrants' rights, the number of removals — the legal classification formerly known simply as deportations — has grown during his tenure. His administration has carried out more removals than any other.
The Obama administration has also effectively "outsourced" the Central American refugee crisis, by paying the Mexican government to prevent refugees who are fleeing violence from reaching the U.S. border.
"We call on the president and the DHS Secretary to immediately stop the plan to carry out raids against our children and families," FIRM said in a statement. "The government must work to ensure that anyone in the country seeking protection is afforded safety, not deportation. Until then, our nationwide movement and its supporters will fight hard to stop these deportations from taking place."