- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2016

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was interrupted while delivering a high school graduation speech this weekend as immigrant-rights activists stepped up their protests against a new round of planned raids to ship illegal immigrants home.

The raids, which will target illegal immigrant families that jumped the border as part of the recent surge from Central America, have become deeply divisive among President Obama’s most ardent supporters, including both of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Bernard Sanders this weekend even began a fundraising drive off of his opposition to the raids, saying his father came as an immigrant for economic reasons, but the children and families coming from Central America are refugees “fleeing horrific violence” who, despite trying to sneak into the U.S., deserve to be allowed to stay.

“Sending women and children back into harm’s way after they already fled horrendous violence in Central America is painful and inhumane and must be stopped,” Mr. Sanders said in his plea for money.

The raids, first reported last week by Reuters, are an extension of stepped up enforcement Mr. Johnson approved at the end of last year.

The first round of raids netted 121 illegal immigrant parents and children who’d snuck in, gone through all of their court proceedings and had been ruled deportable, with the judges rejecting advocates’ claims of refugee status. Each of the 121 had been ordered deported but were ignoring the order, spurring immigration agents to go out and round them up.

It’s not clear how many people might be snared this time around, but the population of targets is huge. More than 250,000 families and unaccompanied children were caught on the border since the start of fiscal year 2014, meaning the 121 rounded up in the first set of raids was less than 1 out of every 2,000.

The small numbers have not deterred immigrant-rights advocates, who have become emboldened in recent years by their success in forcing Mr. Obama to ramp down enforcement. They have forced him to cancel the Secure Communities program, to try to grant work permits to about half of the illegal immigrants in the country, and to drastically cut overall deportations by nearly 50 percent.

Now, the activists hope to embarrass the president into stopping all deportations of illegal immigrant families back to Central America.

The group that interrupted Mr. Johnson’s Saturday graduation speech at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee, held banners and signs urging him to “stop the raids.” They chanted “Education, not deportation” as they broke into a roped-off area just in front of the stage where Mr. Johnson spoke.

They were quickly escorted out, but not before drawing words of praise from Mr. Johnson, who said they were a sign that “we live in a great country.”

“Those young people represent a voice that deserves to be heard,” he said.

Afterward, the protesters said Mr. Johnson shouldn’t have been speaking at all.

“Johnson has no business addressing high schoolers about their future when he’s thrown the future of refugee teens into jeopardy,” said Holly Hardin, an activist from Durham, N.C.

The increase in raids appears designed to try to send a signal back to Central Americans not to attempt the crossing.

Immigration agents had appeared to have a handle on the problem in later 2014, after Mr. Johnson announced that families would be put in detention and held until they could be deported — thus denying them a chance to be released and to disappear into the shadows.

But last year a federal judge in California ruled that detention was too harsh when children were involved, and ordered the families quickly released. Homeland Security had warned the judge that her ruling would spark a new surge, and that has indeed happened, with 2016 on pace to set records for illegal immigrant families caught at the border.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest promised deportations will increase.

“I think we would anticipate that the number of deportations would continue to go up,” he told reporters Friday. “This administration is serious about enforcing the law.”

In reality, deportations among the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. have plummeted under Mr. Obama over the last few years, to where there’s now a less than 1 percent chance any of them would be deported in a given year.

The drop has come chiefly because of pushback from activists and from Mr. Obama’s own Democratic troops in Congress, who said he was being too harsh.

They’ve reacted poorly to the new raids, as well. In addition to Mr. Sanders, Hillary Clinton, who was Mr. Obama’s top diplomat during his first term, has blasted the proposed raids.

“Large scale raids are not productive and do not reflect who we are as a country,” Mrs. Clinton said in her statement.

And Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Durbin, the two top-ranking Democrats in the Senate, said the U.S. has a moral obligation to stop the raids.


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