Does it really take seven, armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to apprehend an undocumented woman and four children? What threat does a mom fearing for her life and the lives of her children pose for U.S. citizens? Those are questions for us to contemplate as individuals, communities and people of faith created by the same God who created the Central American immigrants ICE is targeting.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that ICE in 2016 would target 100,000 people, mostly Central American immigrants with final deportation orders. In the first week of 2016, the Post reported the arrest of about 120 people fitting that description and situation.
Negative feedback to the raids may be having an impact. On Jan. 6, the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project said it had succeeded in halting the detention of four Central American families that ICE apprehended the previous weekend. CARA project appealed the families’ asylum cases to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and requested emergency stays of deportation, which the BIA has granted. The impacted families are being detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas.
These families have bona fide asylum claims, says Katie Shepherd, managing attorney for the CARA project. “It’s beyond shameful that these families, who risked everything to seek protection in the United States, were being forcibly returned to the violence and turmoil they fled in Central America.”
In many cases, women and children denied asylum claims received inadequate or zero legal representation. Some did not show up for court hearings out of confusion about our country’s legal system. Others didn’t realize they have a right to appeal an immigration judge’s negative determination. Still others may have feared that our country would send them home, a potential death sentence.
If you wonder whether violence is a legitimate concern in Central America, just ask Sister Johanna Rickl, president of The Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport. While on pilgrimage in El Salvador last month, she and her fellow pilgrims didn’t leave their hotel in the capital city except to get on the bus to visit the cathedral and government buildings. Gang violence permeates many urban areas.
El Salvador and Honduras are two of the most violent areas in the Western Hemisphere, according to CARA project, a partnership that includes the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. CARA project provides legal representation and undertakes advocacy on behalf of women and children held in federal family detention centers.
Plenty of law-abiding U.S. citizens believe undocumented immigrants should be deported to their home countries because they broke civil law by entering our country without proper documents. We should encourage the governments in Central America to improve conditions so that their citizens have no desire to leave home, these same U.S. citizens say. That’s a reasonable suggestion. But let’s also consider our country’s culpability. What big businesses have or are exploiting natural resources in Central America? Who fuels demand for drugs traveling to the U.S. from south of the border? How have our trade policies, such as NAFTA and CAFTA, adversely impacted our Central American neighbors?
Yes, let’s advocate for systemic change in these countries. But first, start in our own country by looking at our business practices. For example, USA Today reported Jan. 5 that “U.S. employers will soon begin bringing in thousands more low-skilled foreign workers to fill seasonal jobs ranging from ski lift operators to crab pickers.” Congress approved a newly expanded visa program to accommodate the employers’ needs. How ironic is that?
In his World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis says “Jesus tells us that love for others — foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies — is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions. Our eternal destiny depends on this.”
Let’s ask Congress to show equal mercy to the asylum seekers and, at the same time, have the courage to enact fair and just immigration reform in an election year. Then contact ICE (www.ice.gov) and request mercy for immigrants seeking asylum.