Immigration Officials Raid Central American Families

Over the weekend, immigration officials stayed true to their word and began their next phase of immigration law enforcement against Central American nationals who have received a final order of removal from an immigration judge in recent years.

While immigration officials claim they are only looking to find and remove families from Central America who have had their chance to present their case in court and received a “final order of removal” dated January 1, 2014 or later, it remains to be seen whether this will be the case. In fact, for individuals with removal orders in absentia, they may have never even stepped foot into the courtroom. Many of these families are fleeing the continuing violence and economic ruin of countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Although few details have been released regarding the execution of enforcement actions, immigration officers executed removal orders over the weekend which resulted in the arrest and detention of 121 Central American mothers and their children. These raids were targeted against families at their known addresses. These raids seem to have served little purpose than to sow fear in our communities and cause further harm to immigrants who are already fleeing unprecedented violence and persecution in their home countries.

Many of these intended immigrants often flee their home countries with little more than the clothes on their backs and what meager possessions they have managed to stash away. These individuals often arrive seeking the protection of the United States government under political asylum. Claimants are given a credible fear interview with an immigration officer to present their stories.

A successful political asylum seeker will be able to show they have either suffered persecution or will suffer persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or due to their political opinions. If granted, these individuals and their families will be allowed to stay in the United States.

However, unsuccessful claimants will find themselves handed a Notice to Appear (“NTA”) and be given a date to see an immigration judge. Some of these immigrants will be remanded into federal custody at a local detention center while others will be allowed to stay with friends or relatives until their court appearance is required. Federal detention centers have been filled to capacity and have been heavily criticized for being too harsh when alternative methods to ensure an immigrant’s appearing are available, such as posting a bond, requiring electronic monitoring, or allowing the immigrant to self-report with an immigration officer at regular intervals. An experienced attorney can seek a bond hearing to obtain an immigrant’s release from federal custody.

At the court hearing, these immigrants often face a complex and unfamiliar court system. It is well known that families who can afford to hire counsel to represent their claims are far more successful than self-represented litigants. If successful, the family will be granted political asylum and will be allowed to remain in the United States. Unsuccessful applicants will receive an order of removal. While there is a possibility to appeal the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals and even the federal courts, many pro se litigants do not fully understand their rights or the legal complexities of immigration law. Once the time to appeal has lapsed, their order of removal becomes final.

Immigration officials believe their efforts are necessary to stem the huge influx of immigrant families from Central America. Last year, immigration officials claimed that the number of illegal entries had reached record numbers. However, their efforts may have the undesired effect of driving immigrant communities further underground. Immigrants are likely to experience a growing distrust of the US government and may in turn intentionally skip their court appearances to the detriment of all involved. Immigrants with otherwise legitimate asylum claims may spend their entire lives living illegally because of misplaced fear and immigrant officials will waste valuable resources in seeking, apprehending, and prosecuting the individuals who have legitimate claims.

In addition, immigration officials claim that families who have received a final order of removal have already had their chance to present their case in court. However, this may not be the case when an order of removal is issued in absentia. In those cases, it is likely that the individual has not even stepped foot into the courtroom for reasons ranging from never being informed of the court date or court location to moving and being unaware of the responsibility to keep the immigration court apprised of their current address and not receiving the hearing notice. In addition, these raids may have the additional undesired effect of incentivizing immigrants to provide false addresses or to constantly move out of fear that they will be detained.

While it is important for the United States to enforce its immigration laws, there are certainly more humane and dignified ways to approach the problem. These immigrants have seen and experienced fear and terror that many of us will never face, and we should not be adding to that fear by ripping women and children from their homes in the dead of night.

If you have any questions or would like to seek a consultation for your case, please call Lubiner, Schmidt & Palumbo at 908-709-0500.