WASHINGTON — Renewed immigration raids against women and children fail to recognize the severity of situations faced by migrants, who have left Central America to escape death, the U.S. Catholic bishops said.
“Sending women and children back to Central America will not serve as an effective deterrent to migration because this is a humanitarian crisis and individuals from the region are being forced to flee for their lives,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo said May 25.
Bishop Elizondo is an auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.
“These operations spark panic among our parishes,” the bishop continued. “No person, migrant or otherwise, should have to fear leaving their home to attend church or school. No person should have to fear being torn away from their family and returned to danger.”
Reuters on May 12 reported that U.S. immigration officials are planning a series of raids in May and June to deport hundreds of Central American mothers and children who entered the country illegally.
The scourge of gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has driven tens of thousands of migrants to risk a dangerous journey through Mexico to seek refuge in the U.S.
The depravity and scale of the gangs’ violence, such as “sexualized killings” is on a level of the horrors committed by Islamic State in the Middle East that have transfixed the world.
San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city, has in recent years been called the murder capital of the world. Drug trafficking and gang violence led in 2012 to 1,218 homicides in the city: a rate of 169 per 100,000 people.
By comparison, the same year, New Orleans, considered the most violent city in the U.S., had a murder rate of 53 per 100,000 people.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who will soon take over as chairman of the bishops’ migration committee, said the raids are “yet another depressing sign of the failed state of American immigration policy.”
The raids are expected to target individuals with deportation orders. The U.S. bishops said there was a lack of due process for many of these orders, given that they in many cases were issued to individuals who were absent from court or lacked legal representation. In a January 2016 letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the bishops objected to any removal of migrants without confirming they had “meaningful opportunities to present their asylum claims” at immigration court hearings.
January immigration raids focused on Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, and detained 121 people, mostly women and children.
Bishop Elizondo said the USCCB’s migration committee and Migration & Refugee Services aims to protect vulnerable populations.
Both Bishop Elizondo and Archbishop Gomez said enforcement actions that cause constant fear contradict long-standing American values and undermine every person’s God-given dignity.
Central American migration has increased in recent years, with migrants being detained for illegal entry into the U.S. In the period from October 2015 through March 2016, the U.S. border patrol detained more than 32,000 family “units,” meaning mothers and children traveling together. In that same period from 2014-2015 only 14,000 were detained, while in 2013-2014 about 19,800 were detained, according to Reuters.
Register staff contributed to this story.