Phone calls to the White House, free legal clinics and sanctuary in churches. Those measures, as well as a general repudiation, are the weapons pro immigrant groups have will use following a published report indicating that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was getting ready to begin large-scale raids to deport Central American families recently arrived in the country seeking refuge from the violence in their countries.
Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional, an agency that advocates for immigrants and offers immigration services in Panorama City, began making calls to the White House asking President Obama to stop these plans.
“Hello. I’m calling to ask President Obama to talk to the Department of Homeland Security immediately to halt the raids and deportation of Central American children and families fleeing violence. The children and families who are escaping to save their lives must be protected and supported, not arrested and deported. Thanks,” was the script prepared for those making the calls.
The effort will continue until Monday, Jan. 4.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), was also using the same tactic.
“Starting today (Tuesday, Dec. 29) until such a time when we hear other news, we ask the public to flood the White House with calls by dialing (202) 456-1111 and/or to write postcards to President Obama at the White House, Washington, DC, and ask him to give the gift of family. Protection for migrants, not deportation,” stated Angelica Salas, CHIRLA’s executive director.
“Plans to deport Central American families, whether initial, in progress, or final, are horrendous, mean-spirited, and a slap in the face to everything America stands for including justice, due process, and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness,” Salas continued.
On Tuesday morning, a large coalition of pro immigrant groups, activists, religious leaders and lawyers gathered at CHIRLA’s office near downtown Los Angeles to denounce the deportation plan, and offer their assistance to those fearing the possible raids.
Noel Andersen, a reverend with Church World Service, said he and other clergy officials have been building a “sanctuary movement” to assist Central Americans seeking refuge in the United States.
A network of congregations are “preparing themselves as we speak to open their doors for sanctuary if the administration moves forward with their plan,” Andersen said.
Some 50 churches in 15 cities across the country have already pledged to open their doors and offer refuge to migrants fearing deportation.
DHS has not validated, nor denied, the assertions of a Dec. 23 article in the Washington Post detailing the actions of immigrants that flooded the US-Mexico border in 2014, overwhelming resources and presenting a black eye to the Obama administration.
The agency has maintained that they focus on individuals “who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” including those who have been caught trying to enter the country illegally, and those who have been ordered removed from the country since January 2014.
Nearly 235,000 people were deported in Fiscal Year 2015 (which runs from Oct. 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015) and 60 percent of them had criminal histories, according to figures recently released by DHS.
Angela Sanbrano, chairwoman of the CARECEN board, said the DHS figure “seems high” because many people who come over the border and were arrested, “were deported immediately.”
“It depends how people are categorizing the definition of “criminal history,” Sanbrano said. “There may be cases where people who just enter country at the border, get arrested and are immediately deported, may not have a criminal history.
“The [current deportation] policy in the US, at least the policy established in 2013 when they were stepping up enforcement policy. In fact, we were calling Obama ‘Deporter-in-Chief’ because his policy was so aggressive. He deported more people in five years than the entire time Bush was in office.”
But advocates for undocumented immigrants contend that sending these children and families back to countries like El Salvador and Honduras — which rank among the most violent nations in the world — would mean a “death sentence” for them.
“Deporting these families amounts to sending them to the front lines of an undeclared war,” said CARECEN Executive Director Martha Arévalo. “We should be welcoming and protecting them, not throwing them into violence.”
She added that CARECEN is concerned that children and families who received removal orders in 2014 did not get due process because their cases were rushed through the dockets, as the Obama administration tried to dispatch the crush of refugees at its southern border.
“These families’ asylum claims are credible. When represented, they win asylum most of the time. A recent study found that represented children have a 73% success rate in immigration court, as compared to only 15% of unrepresented children,” Arévalo said.
CARECEN has established a program of legal orientation sessions to assist families with completing their asylum applications. The first orientation session is scheduled for Jan. 14, and sessions are available every other Thursday.
Meredith Brown, an immigration attorney, said that volunteer lawyers are ready to help those at risk of being deported.
Brown urged people to prepare for any problems, especially those in the midst of immigration proceedings.
“If you missed an immigrant court date, you must find out if you were given a deportation order in absentia or if there’s another recourse to your case,” Brown said.
She suggested that people “memorize the telephone number of trustworthy organizations or your lawyer” before adding that people should not open the door unless authorities show up with a court order, and “don’t sign anything you don’t understand.”
To sign up for the free legal sessions offered by CARECEN, call (213) 385-7800, x148, and leave a message. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.