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The Rise of the 'School-to-Deportation Pipeline'

Posted on 05/04/2016 @ 12:45 AM

Photo Credit: Nick Ut/AP

By: Mark Salay, LULAC National Communications Intern

A recent series of immigration raids has left undocumented Latino youth in Georgia and North Carolina afraid to leave their homes as communities fear that former safe havens such as schools and educational facilities are now high-risks areas for arrests and deportation.

While the Obama administration has tried to provide protection from deportation in the form of DAPA and DACA to immigrants who have resided in the U.S. for an extended period, it has turned a blind eye to extensive raids against recent arrivals–teens who are adults in age only and seeking refuge from Central America’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested and detained 336 migrant youths. Most of those detained came in an unprecedented wave of 66,000 unaccompanied minors detained in 2014 who fled violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Even though ICE directed its officers to steer clear of targeting schools, churches, and other “sensitive locations” during the raids, the evidence tells a different story. In Georgia and North Carolina–both states with emerging Latino populations–stories have surfaced reporting that ICE is not following orders.

In North Carolina, a 19-year-old student who came to the U.S. to escape being killed by gang members in his native El Salvador was taken away at a bus stop going to school. The New York Times reported on an 18-year-old in Georgia who was deported while on his way to school earlier this month despite facing threats from a local Salvadoran gang.

Central America is struggling to stop drug trafficking and violence in its Northern Triangle region. El Salvador is the murder capital of the world with a death every hour because drug cartels and gangs have taken over nearly every aspect of civilian life, while Honduras and Guatemala suffer from the same conditions to a lesser extent.

President Obama said in 2014 that immigration detainment efforts would focus on immigrants with a criminal background, but ICE has been left unchecked. Unfortunately, this is having traumatic consequences for youth seized during these raids, and many face a disturbing potential scenario: death by deportation upon arrival in their home countries.

The Department of Homeland Security’s month-long campaign known as Operation Border Guardian, began in late January to crack down and curb southwest border crossing that spiked in 2014 and which saw an uptick again in late 2015.

The DHS said it would only target unaccompanied minors who crossed the border, have turned 18 years of age, and have not been granted asylum. Many of these unaccompanied youth, however, were already at a disadvantage in court proceedings because the U.S. government is not responsible for providing them with an attorney, leaving the minors–many with limited English-speaking abilities–without any legal help at their side.

ICE chose not to release the number of arrests of its raids by state, but by city field offices instead. The Atlanta field office responsible for Georgia and the Carolinas seized 127 individuals, more than one-third of all those apprehended in raids since the January enforcement period began.

These arrests have had alarming consequences on those students facing similar situations who fear going to school in the morning and potentially never coming back. One high school in Durham, NC saw attendance drop by 20 percent after one immigration raid detained a 19-year-old Honduran on his way to school. As reported, teachers from Durham and Charlotte have noticed increased absences, dropouts, and students purposely trying to get suspended so they can stay home and be with friends and family.

In response to student arrests in North Carolina, the Raleigh School District issued a resolution opposing ICE’s actions, citing humanitarian principles, ICE’s policy not to target sensitive locations, and reiterating the students’ statuses as low priority for deportation.

The situation has developed into a humanitarian crisis for this administration. The Guardian reported 83 cases of death by deportation since January 2014, 45 in El Salvador, 35 in Honduras, and three in Guatemala. Of 16,077 women from the Northern Triangle and Mexico interviewed by U.S. asylum officers in 2015, 82 percent of them had a “credible fear of persecution or torture.”

As it stands now, more than 85 percent of mothers and children show up to immigration proceedings without legal assistance, a huge problem considering that Central American families with no counsel were allowed to stay in the country only 2.3 percent of the time. Meanwhile, when they are able to receive legal help, they are 14 times less likely not to be deported.

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution entitles all people to due process of law, regardless of legal status. Rather than deportation, the better alternative is to protect these children’s right to seek asylum by providing access to legal assistance and information. The administration must dedicate itself to addressing why these children are leaving and not play politics with the lives of harmless immigrants trying to escape violence.

Mark Salay is the Communications Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. He is a senior at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in communication with minors in history and professional writing, and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.


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