- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2016

Immigration authorities signaled a new series of upcoming roundups of illegal immigrant families that surged across the border in recent years, drawing a fierce rebuke Thursday from advocacy groups who said President Obama could pay a political price among Hispanics.

Reuters first reported on documents detailing raids intended to deport illegal immigrant mothers and children from Central America who have arrived as part of the border surge since 2014. The illegal immigrants in question have had a chance to make their case in court, and have been ordered deported by a judge, but are ignoring that order.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn’t dispute the report, but insisted it’s following the priorities Mr. Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson laid out.

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“Current operations are a continuation of operations Secretary Johnson announced in January and March,” said ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea. “We stress that these operations are limited to those who were apprehended at the border after January 1, 2014, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or pending claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws.”

ICE promised not to arrest illegal immigrants while they were at church or at a school or hospital, unless it was considered an emergency case.

Immigrant rights advocates, though, deplored the raids, saying the people being targeted should be considered refugees — even though a judge has already denied that request — and should be allowed to stay.

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“For a nation that claims to be a world leader in refugee protection, in our own hemisphere we need to start acting like one. Those fleeing horrific violence in Central America need to be protected, not deported,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

The raids are bound to be ensnared in election-year politics, with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump proposing massive deportations, while the two remaining Democratic candidates say the government must show leniency and allow new illegal immigrants to stay.

“I’m against large scale raids that tear families apart and sow fear in communities,” likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said Thursday, calling for more humanitarian aid instead of enforcement. “We need a comprehensive plan to stop the root causes of the violence in Central America and expand orderly resettlement programs. Large scale raids are not productive and do not reflect who we are as a country.”

More than 100,000 women and children overwhelmed the U.S. border since 2014, and the numbers have spiked again this year — particularly among families.

The Obama administration says part of the key to stopping the surge is proving that illegal immigrants will be quickly caught and sent back home. But they’ve run into trouble making that case in court, where a federal judge has derailed their plans and ordered them to release the families as quickly as possible.

An initial set of raids in January netted some 121 illegal immigrants, most of whom were quickly sent back home.

But about a dozen won a stay of deportation and have been released after an immigration judge said they deserved more of a chance to make their case for refugee status.

Advocacy groups say the families deserve government-funded lawyers to help them make their case in what all sides agree are complicated proceedings.

The deportation efforts are more symbolic than effective at this point. The 121 illegal immigrants netted in January amounted to less than one-thousandth of the illegal immigrant family members who have been caught since the beginning of 2014.

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