Deportation Raids Sweeping the Heartland Are Traumatizing Families

Immigrant justice advocates say that the Obama administration’s latest wave of deportation raids across the Midwest is traumatizing communities and tearing children from their parents.

According to a June 17 statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency “arrested 331 individuals during a monthlong operation” in six Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri.

ICE claimed that the sweeps targeted “criminal aliens and other immigration violators. Ricardo Wong, field officer for Enforcement and Removal Operations, said: “Our dedicated officers strive to make our communities safer by arresting convicted criminal aliens and removing them from the United States.”

But Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the executive director of the Wisconsin-based group Voces de la Frontera, responded in a press statement: “ICE claims their raids make communities safer, but in fact ICE makes us all less safe by traumatizing families, robbing children of their parents and making immigrant community members afraid to cooperate with law enforcement to report crimes.”

“In these raids ICE arrested the son-in-law of one of our members, and the only offense on his record is a 10-year-old conviction for working with a made-up Social Security Number,” Neumann-Ortiz continued. “He is not a threat to anyone. His crime was working to support his wife and 2 children, and he was only arrested because of a racist, Arizona-type workplace raid, where ICE went to the Star Packaging Factory in Whitewater in 2006 and racially profiled all the Latino workers. Contrary to what ICE claims, he is not a priority for deportation. He is a victim of civil rights violations and his case should be closed immediately.”

Bob Libal, executive director of the advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership, emphasized in an interview with AlterNet: “I would push back on the idea that targeting people with criminal convictions is the solution. We’re talking about the tearing apart of communities and families. If someone has gone through the criminal justice system, them being deported doubly impacts their community and family.”

The last month of raids comes in the midst of an escalated crackdown primarily targeting migrants and refugees from Central American countries, where U.S. policies have fueled displacement by poverty and violence.

According to a recent report from a coalition of immigrant justice organizations known as the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, many of the Central American families swept up in raids this spring and summer were denied their most basic rights to due process and had valid asylum claims. What’s more, the report charges that ICE engaged in “aggressive and inappropriate conduct” during the raids. According to the report, such conduct included: “forcing women to change clothes in front of ICE officers” and “arrests on the way to school and handcuffing of children.”

President Barack Obama has deported more people than any other president, bringing nearly a 25 percent increase compared to the George W. Bush years. The latest spike has set off fear among the communities targeted, but according to Brenda Perez, organizer with Comite Popular-Nashville, the escalation is also inspiring grassroots efforts to protect community safety.

“Tactics are being used to divide communities,” said Perez. “But I’m seeing a lot more people who want to know what to do, who want to get organized. A lot more folks are coming forward, asking questions, and getting organized.”


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