House Dems Urge Obama to Stop Deportation Raids on Refugee Families
New York City—Human Rights First today praised members of Congress for urging the Obama Administration to end its deportation raids targeting refugee women and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The call came in a letter to President Obama from more than 100 House Democrats.
“Many of the women and children being picked up in these inhumane raids are not actively trying to evade their court hearings; they were simply not given adequate instructions on when and where to show up,” said Human Rights First’s Sharon Kelly McBride. “Instead of implementing new procedures that would give refugees the information they need to appear in court, the Obama Administration is penalizing families who have already suffered tremendous violence and persecution in their home countries.”
It is not unlawful for the United States to deport individuals who have been ordered removed by a judge. But when families don’t receive adequate information about what is expected of them, the U.S. government is not living up to its commitments to protect refugees.
Many of the families who have received removal orders have not had a full hearing on the merits of their cases. According to government data updated through November 2015, 83 percent of removal orders against families have been issued in absentia; 97 percent of those in absentia orders were issued against unrepresented families.
In particular, when an increasing number of children and families sought protection at the southwest border last year, Human Rights First and other groups documented failures in providing adequate, accessible information related to appearance and supervision requirements, as well as clerical errors that can have serious consequences.
Families may fail to appear in court for a number of reasons, often related to systemic failures to provide adequate information on appearance obligations, lack of legal advice or representation, or inadequate support throughout the process. While conducting research at the southern border last year, Human Rights First researchers found that some asylum seekers were given hearing notices for a court located in a different state—apparently a mistake by the authority issuing the notice—with no explanation of how to correct such errors. Others have documented recent instances in which mothers were not provided information about their appearance obligations. Without this information, families may fail to appear for a court hearing, which can result in a removal order in absentia—when a judge orders an individual deported for failing to appear for a court hearing.
“The operation raises numerous due process concerns including meaningful access to legal counsel for mothers and children after apprehension and DHS officers reportedly using deceptive tactics to gain entrance into private residences. For these reasons and others, we believe that this operation should be immediately suspended until we can ensure no mother or child will be sent back to a country where they would face persecution, torture or death,” stated today’s letter, which was spearheaded by Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04).