- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Federal immigration officials have released eight of the families they targeted for deportation raids earlier this year, advocacy groups said Tuesday as they questioned the Obama administration’s new get-tough approach on the surge of illegal immigrants from Central America.

Immigration agents rounded up 121 illegal immigrants in early January, each of whom had come as part of the surge of families that overwhelmed the border in 2014. Each of them had exhausted court appeals and had been ordered removed, but was ignoring that order.

Immigrant-rights advocates, though, rushed to court and stopped deportations for 12 families, accounting for 33 of the 121 people who were arrested. Of those, eight families have now been released from custody altogether, though they are still facing deportation cases.

“This fight is not just about these eight families, nor is it just about the victims of last month’s raids who have yet to be released. The administration needs to do the right thing by all of these families, ensure that their due process rights are protected, and end family detention once and for all,” said Katie Shepherd, a lawyer for the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, a coalition of advocacy groups that’s banded together to try to stop deportations.

The raids have become a major new dividing line in the immigration debate, with Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill harshly criticizing their own president for attempting what is a low level of enforcement of the laws on the books.

The 121 people rounded up amount to less than one in 1,000 of the total number of parents and children who surged into the U.S. illegally in 2014 and 2015 — yet symbolically they loom large, as immigrant-rights advocates say they are fleeing horrific conditions in Central America and have a legal right to remain in the U.S. under government protections.

Those who favor a crackdown on illegal immigration, meanwhile, say the administration’s efforts fall well short of what’s needed to stop the flow of thousands of illegal immigrant children traveling alone, and thousands more families traveling together, who try to sneak into the U.S. every month.

Last week the chief of Border Patrol agents’ labor union told Congress he and his fellow agents have been told to reinstitute the maligned catch-and-release policy ended during the Bush administration. Under the new policy, if illegal immigrants assert they were in the U.S. before 2014, agents must release them, and cannot even ask for proof of their claims.

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