WASHINGTON, DC, March 10, 2016 — Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is gravely concerned about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) newest enforcement action—“Operation Border Guardian”—which targets many refugee youth who entered the United States as unaccompanied children.
Since January 23rd, DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has taken into custody, with the intent to deport, 336 individuals who entered the United States just two years ago as children and have not yet reached their 21st birthdays. The vast majority of these youth have parents, siblings and other relatives in the United States. ICE’s actions have thus caused family separation and vast turmoil within communities. Such a program runs contrary to basic child welfare standards.
LIRS is particularly concerned that many of these youth targeted for deportation have valid claims to asylum, trafficking protections, or other humanitarian protections. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in their report Children on the Run documented significant protection concerns among children from Northern Triangle countries and Mexico, which continue to increase. According to one report, between January 2014 and October 2015, at least 83 people deported from the United States were murdered.
Despite children’s eligibility for legal relief from deportation, most children who attend immigration court do not have due process protections, such as a lawyer to represent them in court and help them understand the legal proceedings. The single most determinative factor in whether or not a child is legally allowed to stay in the United States is whether the child has an attorney. It is not justice if the United States’ policies cripple a child’s access to legal protection and then target those same children for deportation.
Above all, this enforcement actions runs contrary basic child welfare standards. LIRS is deeply distressed that young people are being routinely targeted in or on their way to sensitive locations, such as in places of worship, in schools, and in doctor’s offices. These are places where individuals have the right to feel safe and secure. Moreover, these raids have a ripple effect on the wider immigrant community, causing anxiety among other children in mixed-status families and making families fearful of sending their children to school, visiting places like health clinics, or attending immigration court proceedings.
LIRS urges Department of Homeland Security officials to end this misguided program and to exercise careful and compassionate prosecutorial discretion when determining whether to deport children and others seeking refuge in the United States. Vulnerable families should not be used as a means to deter others from escaping life-threatening circumstances in search of safety and hope.
The United States has long been recognized as a guardian of the most vulnerable; we must continue to live up to our reputation and stand for protection.
For more information, please see this letter, signed by over 150 organizations in opposition to “Operation Border Guardian.