Last February, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly signed a memo promising to crack down on undocumented parents whose children are smuggled into the U.S. This week, immigration officials confirmed that arrests targeting those undocumented parents had begun.
The administration’s focus on detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants already had extended well beyond “hardened criminals,” a popular Trump and Republican talking point to spread fear and falsely associate immigrants with crime and gangs.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is calling the new actions a “surge initiative.”
“ICE aims to disrupt and dismantle end-to-end the illicit pathways used by transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling facilitators,” an ICE spokeswoman said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The New York Times explains the new tactics:
In some cases, parents or other relatives who have taken in undocumented children may face criminal smuggling-related charges and the prospect of prison; in other cases, they will be placed in deportation proceedings along with the children. The administration said the arrests would deter families from putting children in the hands of smugglers for dangerous journeys through regions controlled by drug cartels.
But immigrant advocates say this new tactic will separate families, send them back into dangerous situations, prevent parents from claiming custody of their children as they arrive in the country, and prompt a spike in kids being sent to juvenile detention centers.
“Don’t be fooled here by claims that this is an effort to protect children from smugglers,” Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission told reporters during a conference call, the LA Times reported. “What we’re seeing here is the United States government using children as bait with the clear intent of punishing parents and deterring them from protecting their children.”
Perhaps thousands of parents across the U.S. could be at risk of arrest and deportation if they decide to bring their children to the U.S. via a “coyote,” as smugglers are known. That is a preferred situation, many parents believe, than leaving kids back home in countries like Honduras, where gangs and violence are rampant.
The New York Times noted:
When unaccompanied children are apprehended at the border — often after having been taken there by smugglers — immigration officials initiate cases for their deportation, a process that can take months or years. In the meantime, many of those children are placed with parents or relatives who crossed earlier to establish a foothold in the United States and earn money to send back home.
Until recently, those adults have not been priorities for arrest, even if they are in the country illegally.
Under the Trump administration, those priorities clearly have now changed.