Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency in charge of enforcing our country’s immigration laws, just launched a series of raids in North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia, to deport people (including young children and mothers) who, among other things, entered as undocumented after Jan. 1, 2014, or were ordered removed after Jan. 1, 2014. We have heard (from clients and friends) that young children and mothers are being places in custody and are being pushed to be removed quickly.
Many—if not most—of these people are immigrants from Central America who fled their countries starting 2014 because of the violence caused by drugs, gangs like the MS-13, and the inability of local police to stop these increasing threats. These immigrants fled to the United States, not because they are criminals, but because they have become refugees fleeing their war-torn countries where they sincerely fear they will be killed.
The ICE raids that have just started this past weekend will make it less likely that people succeed in their asylum cases or that they will apply at all. People who apply for asylum are usually given sufficient time to seek an attorney and prepare their asylum cases by gathering evidence, lining up witnesses, gathering documents and testimonies from their native countries, hiring an expert and obtaining an expert report or testimony from him or her, and preparing for their final hearings in front of an immigration judge.
An asylum case is not easy—and is definitely not cheap if one hires an attorney; this task is much more difficult to manage if the applicant is detained, which is what these ICE raids will accomplish. Imagine trying to gather documents and testimony while you are inside a detention center. Add to this the fact that you may need an expert to testify in complex issues regarding the socioeconomical or political climate in your native country or the modus operandi of gangs in your native state. You also need to file all your evidence with the immigration court and provide a copy of all your filings to the attorneys for ICE who are arguing that you should be removed. Overnight, the task of winning an asylum case (or applying for this relief) becomes nearly impossible and extremely expensive, so what many of these people will inevitably end up doing is forgoing their day in court and wait instead to be removed. This is a huge miscarriage of justice for all these people who should be afforded the opportunity for a fair and full hearing in court.
These ICE raids are not intended to keep our country safe (most of the people who were detained were families with no criminal records), they are meant to discourage the influx of undocumented immigrants, period. What is sad is that the government may be accomplishing this but at the expense of the well being of hundreds of hardworking families and, of course, the U.S. Constitution.
If you think you run the risk of getting detained or know someone who might, please talk to an immigration attorney about your options.
Johanna Cochran, Associate Attorney