Dems to Obama: 'Stop the deportations'

Dems to Obama: 'Stop the deportations'
© Greg Nash

House liberals intensified their criticisms of President Obama's deportation policies on Wednesday, urging the administration to scrap enforcement guidelines that target new arrivals and focus solely on criminals. 

Appearing on Capitol Hill with several dozen Central American asylum seekers, the Democrats hammered the Department of Homeland Security's ongoing operations targeting women and children, saying even those who've been denied refugee status should be allowed to remain in the country.


The lawmakers warned that sending those families back to the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — among the most violent regions in the world — would put them in harm’s way. 

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) called the deportations "cruel and misguided."

"The removal operations … do not live up to our American values or our time-honored tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing violence and brutality in their own country," she said.

"We agree that the administration must continue to enforce our immigration laws and deport felons and those who will do our country harm. But not women and children like you see here today."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee's immigration subpanel, delivered a similar message.

"Years ago, the president said we were going to focus on felons, not families," Lofgren said. "To put resources into children and their mothers instead of felons as a priority — I don't understand that. When we're through removing all the felons, then we can talk about the [mothers] and the kids."

Homeland Security launched its enforcement operations in January, rounding up 121 undocumented immigrants who'd been denied asylum status and putting them in line for deportation. Most of those affected were Central American women and children who'd arrived with the southern border surge of 2014.

The administration is working to prevent a similar surge this summer, and the deportation of even a small fraction of the new arrivals is thought to send a message of deterrence to Central America.

Reinforcing that strategy, the DHS released new figures this month revealing that, while the number of families and unaccompanied children apprehended at the southern border skyrocketed in the early months of fiscal 2016, they dropped sharply after the enforcement operations were announced in December.

The White House and DHS officials maintain they're simply enforcing immigration law based on guidelines they adopted in November 2014, which aim to focus limited resources on deporting criminals and new arrivals. 

"No one is removed if they have an ongoing, pending claim or appeal for asylum or some other form of humanitarian relief," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Friday. "People are given access to due process, and that is a foundational principle for all of this."

The debate has lingered since the initial arrests in January, but it's heated up recently with the news that the DHS intends to continue the operations in upcoming months — news broken by Reuters last week. 

"We would anticipate that the deportation numbers would continue to go up," Earnest said.

The news has infuriated congressional Democrats, who say the better solution for preventing a new migrant wave is to coordinate with regional governments, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to adopt a hemispheric strategy for absorbing refugees and stabilizing the Northern Triangle.  

"We're asking the administration to do something smarter than they're doing now," Lofgren said. 

Democrats say the asylum seekers are not always notified when they're expected to appear in court and are too-often denied access to legal counsel.

"When they have a lawyer, they win," Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday. 

Gutiérrez boiled down the Democrats' message to five words: "Obama should stop the deportations." 

With summer coming and conditions in the Northern Triangle not improving, the Democrats warned that border crossings are likely to jump. 

"The countries are lawless and becoming worse. More children will be coming this summer, because the violence is unabated, and they will seek a place of refuge," Gutiérrez said.  

"They have a right to seek and petition our government, and we want to protect that right."