WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- The Obama administration is planning a new round of immigration raids to focus on Central American mothers and children who have entered the country illegally and evaded deportation orders.
The Department of Homeland Security said the raids will focus on those who illegally crossed the border after Jan. 1, 2014, including single adults, mothers with young children and unaccompanied youths who turned 18 after entering the United States. It will focus on those who already have deportation orders from immigration court.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron said it will not conduct raids "at sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals and places of worship, except in emergency circumstances."
"As we have stated repeatedly, the Department of Homeland Security must enforce the law consistent with our enforcement priorities. Our highest priority is public safety and border security," the department said. "More specifically, the enforcement priorities DHS announced in November 2014 include the removal of convicted criminals and others who constitute threats to public safety and national security, as well as recent border crossers."
Earlier this year, the government detained more than 100 people in similar raids, many Central American women and children who said they were fleeing violence. Since Oct. 1, the U.S. Border Patrol has detained 27,754 unaccompanied minors from Central America. That's almost double of the overall total of 15,616 last year and just below the 2014 record of 28,579 during the same time frame. Experts said the spike is being fueled by gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton criticized the plans Thursday. Sanders said, "Sending these people back into harm's way is wrong," and urged President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to extend protections.
"I oppose the painful and inhumane business of locking up and deporting families who have fled horrendous violence in Central America and other countries," he said.
Clinton called for a plan to impede the violence in Central America and "expand orderly resettlement programs."
"I am concerned about recent news reports, and believe we should not be taking kids and families from their homes in the middle of the night," she said.
Meanwhile, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has called for a wall to be built at the U.S.-Mexico border to protect against illegal border crossings.