Government raids, detention of undocumented immigrants criticized

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Jan. 26, 2016 at 1:34 PM
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MIAMI, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- As a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security continues, so does the controversial detentions of undocumented immigrants apprehended during raids earlier this month.

On Jan. 2, raids were conducted in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas on families who were granted temporary reprieve from deportation. At least 12 families are still being held in detention centers.

The incident may provide more examples of government mistreatment or inaction initially alleged in a class-action lawsuit filed in June against the DHS alleging the U.S. Border Patrol allowed inhumane conditions to persist at detention centers.

"It is unconscionable that the government is holding a firm line and continuing to detain them," Manoj Govindiah, an attorney with RAICES, told Fox News Latino. RAICES provides pro-bono legal counsel to the women who are being held along with their children after the raids this month.

Govindiah said the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has the discretion to release the women and children but has not, adding that the agency's actions violates an 18-year-old legal agreement that established guidelines detailing the treatment of children detained after crossing the border.

One of the women -- identified as Dominga -- was taken after a raid in Atlanta and detained in Dilley, Texas, and has been waiting to hear when she and her children will be released. Dominga said she fled El Salvador with her two children to escape domestic and sexual abuse.

Dominga is waiting on the Board of Immigration Appeals to open her case, which will allow for the processing of asylum petitions. Until then, she will likely remain in a detention center with her children.

"My children understand that jail is a bad place for bad people. I can't explain to them why they are being treated like criminals," Dominga told Fox News Latino.

"We have gone through so many hardships," she said. "I just want better for my children and I want them to know that we aren't criminals. We are humans and we have the right to be happy and safe."

Govindiah said lawyers are working on gathering information to seek a governmental response in the matter from a federal judge, which may find the actions violate guidelines and could lead to the family's release.

The U.S. government's treatment of undocumented immigrants and the raids it often conducts has been sharply criticized by human rights activists.

Miami New Times reports that a 38-year-old farm worker in Homestead, Fla., experienced one such raid in 2010.

The farm worker -- identified as Jorge -- was eating dinner with his two brothers and two friends in their Homestead home when they heard a knock at the door. When Jorge looked through the peephole, he saw a police officer and a woman dressed in civilian clothes.

"Open up, or it will go very bad for you," the officer said before Jorge cracked open the door and the officer pushed his way inside.

The brothers, whom were undocumented and had clean records, fled gang violence Guatemala in 1999 and have been working for less than minimum wage in Homestead. They await legal hearings that could send them back to Guatemala.

"I was thinking, What's happening here? Isn't he a police officer?" Jorge said. "He didn't say, 'Hands up,' or anything. He just came in -- like a wasp ready to sting you."

Nearly 6,000 undocumented immigrants with no prior convictions were deported in 2015.

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the only Latino Democrat in the Senate, previously said federal raids were "harsh tactics," adding that the raids target undocumented immigrants "whose only mistake was to escape a certain death in their native countries."

"Furthermore, I have deep concerns of the chilling effect these home raids will have among immigrant communities who will understandably be terrified and deterred from approaching law enforcement to report crimes and forced further into the shadows," Menendez told POLITICO. "As we begin to get more details on these operations, let's not overlook the devastating effect and cost to spending our limited DHS funds on deporting women and children and not violent felons."

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