It seems that President Obama’s government will end the same way it spent most of its time in the White House: deporting people. It will be the sad conclusion to a period that began with the hope of reform but now ‒ after seven years of massive deportation and executive actions ‒ seems to indicate that 2016 will be a year of raids and more deportations.
According to reports, a large-scale operative is being considered to allow the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to seek out and deport adults and minors who arrived in the country with the latest wave of Central American refugees, and who were denied asylum by a judge who also ordered their deportation.
The plan is being considered at a moment when the number of families and minors coming in from Central America has surged. Just like months ago, they are fleeing gangs, crime and, now, a drought. The government says that deportations are meant as a strategy to discourage people from coming ‒ sending them the message that they will not be able to stay in the U.S. The idea is also to prevent parents from sending their children to the North in care of “coyotes” or smugglers.
It is understandable to want to deport those who have been ordered to leave, but this particular proposal is unfair and heartless for several reasons.
The process followed by immigration courts to deal with Central Americans seeking asylum was highly irregular. Children lacking a lawyer and with no knowledge of English were forced to face a legal process confusing enough for an adult where everyone present wanted to deport them.
It is also time to start looking at these families and minors as refugees who are trying to escape a situation of violence that pushes them to take a risk to reach the U.S. border. The nearness between our countries and our political relations should not drive us to give Central American refugees a different treatment than the one offered to Syrians.
Lastly, it is unacceptable to deport people as exemplary punishment to prevent others from coming. In most cases, this strategy taints the way cases are treated, allowing deportations to be ordered based on the wish to give an example rather than on the individual merits of the case.
All this threatens to turn 2016 into the year of deportations.