Dems split on migrant crackdown

Leading Democrats are split over the Obama administration's recent crackdown on scores of migrants now in line for deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Monday that 121 immigrants deemed ineligible for asylum status were arrested over the weekend and will soon be sent home, primarily to Central America. The group includes women and children who arrived as part of the 2014 southern border surge.

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Some Democrats blasted those actions on Tuesday, accusing the administration of adopting callous policies that could put families at risk of violence in their home nations.

"The raids by the Obama Administration on families from Central America must stop. They are a cruel reminder of a discredited policy," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a vocal immigration reform advocate, said in a statement.

But others defended the arrests, saying DHS officials are simply following the rule of law.

"These are folks who have been adjudged, as I understand it, by a court, have received an order to leave and have not left. And the law says that they need to leave,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said during a press briefing. "It's a relatively small number. I would be opposed to some sort of blanket."

The 2014 spike in the number of migrants seeking to enter the country — many of them families and unaccompanied children — caused a humanitarian crisis on the Texas border as Health Department and Homeland Security officials scrambled to process the numbers.

The surge confronted officials with the difficult task of determining which migrants were fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — and therefore eligible for asylum status — and which were trying to slip through the cracks.

The crisis flooded the immigration courts and led the administration to open several Texas detention facilities that many Capitol Hill Democrats — including Hoyer and Gutierrez — have characterized as both illegal and inhumane.

The 121 immigrants arrested over the weekend will be housed in those facilities prior to being deported, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday in a statement.

"As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration," Johnson said. "If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values."

Gutierrez accused the agency of launching the raids "to instill fear in immigrant households over the Christmas, New Year’s and Three Kings holidays."

"Along with other Members of Congress, I am seeking answers from … Johnson as to why this policy is needed," he said, "and why family detention centers I have been trying to close are now filling up with new families awaiting deportation."

Hoyer acknowledged the threat of violence in Central America, but he also expressed confidence in the courts not to send families back into harm's way.

"If they are in that position of wanting refuge from violence — obviously we see El Salvador is now the murder capital of the world — this is something that needs to be considered," he said. "And there is a process for doing so in our system."