Illinois immigrant advocates spoke out Tuesday against a federal deportation crackdown on families who recently entered the United States illegally through the southern border.
This past weekend, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials apprehended 121 undocumented adults and their children living in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina as part of "nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children," U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday.
ICE's weekend actions come in response to the wave of Central American migrants, many fleeing violence in their home countries, who started arriving at the southern U.S. border in the spring of 2014.
The 121 individuals targeted in ICE's operations illegally entered the U.S. after May 2014, have court-issued removal orders and "have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws," Johnson said.
Those taken into custody will be processed, issued travel documents and flown to their home countries, Johnson said.
"We want these deportations to stop," Lawrence Benito with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) said during a press conference this morning outside ICE's downtown Chicago offices, 101 W. Congress Parkway.
"Locally, we are asking regional ICE director [Ricardo] Wong not to participate with these raids and to use discretion," he added. "And we call upon elected officials, faith leaders and people of good conscious to reflect on our country's values and provide real assistance to those seeking refuge and to block any local cooperation with ICE."
Benito was joined by representatives from the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Organized Communities Against Deportations and other groups.
"I'm here to express our extreme disappointment at the recent announcement regarding raids of families who have entered the United States in the recent year," said NIJC's Claudia Valenzuela. "We express our disappointment in light of the fact that this is a growing refugee crisis, that these individuals fleeing Central America are fleeing situations of violence. It's not a matter simply of economic necessity, but a matter of life or death for many of the families that we see and speak to."
Here's more from Valenzuela and Benito:
In his statement, Johnson said ICE's weekend operations "should come as no surprise."
"I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed," he said.
Since summer 2014, federal immigration officials "have removed and repatriated migrants to Central America at an increased rate, averaging about 14 flights a week," Johnson noted. "Most of those returned have been single adults."
Johnson's full statement can be found here.
According to ICIRR, immigration removal orders have been issued to 17,000 Central American families living illegally in the United States, including 800 in Illinois.
Dina de la Paz, who migrated to the United States from El Salvador in 2009, spoke at today's press conference about the conditions prompting people to flee from her home country.
"In El Salvador, there's a lot of crime, and that's why families and young people are immigrating," she said through a translator. "There's kidnapping. There's crime, and there's a lack of opportunity. That's why we're immigrating to this country with our families."
Paz currently has a "stay of removal," or temporary relief from deportation. Paz's cousin, also from El Salvador, came to the United States illegally last year with her two children.
"She's in deportation proceedings," Paz said of her cousin. "We are not sure what's going to happen to her, if she will be deported or if this country will give her an opportunity to live here with her children. We ask this country to give us a chance to work with dignity, to be able to fight for a better future."