Central American Families Fear Deportation As Raids Begin | KERA News

Central American Families Fear Deportation As Raids Begin

Jan 5, 2016
Originally published on January 11, 2016 1:17 pm

Federal immigration agents have initiated a controversial roundup of Central American families who were part of the border surge that began in 2014.

They are mainly young mothers with children whose asylum claims have been rejected. The Homeland Security Department says 121 have been picked up out of more than 100,000 immigrants who crossed the border illegally.

At a shelter home in East Austin, the raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have terrified immigrants here who lost their cases and await deportation.

Hilda Ramirez, a 28-year-old Mayan mother from San Marcos, Guatemala, left Central America to flee her 9-year-old son Ivan's abusive grandparents. They crossed the Rio Grande in August 2014 and surrendered to the Border Patrol. They spent the next year and a half in an ICE detention center and here in this shelter home run by an Austin nonprofit. Both her and her son's asylum requests were turned down.

Ramirez wears an electronic ankle monitor, which is how ICE knows exactly where she is.

"Every time a car stops on the street," she says tearfully, "I think it's them and they've come to take us away. I can't sleep. I'm very afraid."

Ramirez has reason to be. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Monday that the roundup of Central American families has begun. Up until now, most of those returned had been single adults.

"I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, while there will be others who say the actions don't go far enough," Johnson says.

After they're picked up in the current raids, immigrant families are taken to a detention center in Dilley, Texas, to await deportation. Ana Urias is there now with her four children, ages 3 to 17.

"I was easy to find because of the electronic ankle monitor on my leg," says Urias, from a phone inside the building. She's a 32-year-old mother from Usulután Province, El Salvador, who says she fled because murderous gangs threatened her family.

Urias says ICE agents showed up at the door of her apartment in Atlanta at 11 a.m. Sunday, but she wouldn't let them in. Then they called her and said they were actually there because her ankle monitor was broken. So she opened the door. Once inside, they told her to get her kids together and go with them.

"They were very angry," she says. "They didn't give me a chance to do anything. I was in my pajamas and slippers. I said I wanted to call my lawyer. I didn't even have a chance to brush my hair. It all happened so fast. They fingerprinted me and took us to the airport.

"When we got to the airplane, there were 20, 25 police waiting for four families," Urias continues. "Four women with our children. Why so much security? We're deportable families, not criminals!"

Immigrant advocates are furious with the government. Though both women in this story had lawyers and still lost their asylum claims, advocates say that most applicants don't have representation and end up losing their cases.

Cecilia Wang, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, calls the ICE sweeps an elaborate and unjust show.

"The federal government is going to engage in fear tactics, storming into people's homes in early morning hours, in order to deter others," she says.

But the borders "are not open to illegal immigration," says Secretary Johnson. "If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Homeland Security Department has begun rounding up Central American families whose asylum claims have been rejected. So far, DHS says it has picked up 121 people out of more than a hundred-thousand who have entered the U.S. illegally within the past two years. Those being deported are mainly young mothers with children. NPR's John Burnett visited some of them.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Speaking Spanish).

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: When I arrive at the house in East Austin, there are kids playing outside and eyes peeking through curtains at the street. The ongoing raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have terrified immigrants who lost their cases and await deportation, people like Hilda Ramirez.

Hola, Hilda.

HILDA RAMIREZ: Hola.

BURNETT: Como esta?

I'd met Hilda before. She's a diminutive 28-year-old Mayan mother from San Marcos, Guatemala, in a pink T-shirt and jean shorts. Her bright-eyed son Ivan is nine. She says they left Central America to flee Ivan's abusive grandparents. They crossed the Rio Grande in August 2014 and surrendered to the Border Patrol. They spent the next year-and-a-half in an ICE detention center and here in this shelter home run by an Austin nonprofit. Both her and her son's asylum requests were turned down. Hilda wears an electronic ankle monitor which is how ICE knows exactly where she is.

RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: Hilda says every time a car stops on this quiet cul-de-sac, she thinks it's federal agents who've come to take her away. She can't sleep. She's afraid. Ramirez has reason to be. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson announced Monday that the roundup of Central American families has begun. I know there are many who loudly condemn our enforcement efforts as far too harsh, he says in a statement, while there will be others who say the actions don't go far enough. After they're picked up in the current raids, immigrant families are taken to a detention center in Dilley, Texas, to await deportation. Ana Urias is there now with her four children, ages 3 to 17.

ANA URIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "I was easy to find because of the electronic ankle monitor on my legs," says Urias from a phone inside the building. She's a 32-year-old mother from Usulutan Province, El Salvador, who says she fled because murderous gangs were threatening her family. Urias says ICE agents showed up at the door of her apartment in Atlanta Sunday morning at 11 o'clock, but she wouldn't let them in. Then they called her and said they were actually there because her ankle monitor was broken, so she opened the door. Once inside, they told her to get her kids together and go with them.

URIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "They were very angry," she says. "They didn't give me a chance to do anything. I was in my pajamas and slippers. I said I wanted to call my lawyer. I didn't even have a chance to brush my hair. It all happened to fast. They fingerprinted me and took us to the airport."

URIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: "When we got to the airplane, there were 20, 25 police waiting for four families," she says. "Four women with our children - why so much security? We're deportable families, not criminals."

URIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: Immigrant advocates are furious with the government. Though both women in this story had lawyers and still lost their asylum claims, advocates say that most applicants don't have representation and end up losing their cases. Cecilia Wang is director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. She calls the sweeps by ICE an elaborate and unjust show.

CECILIA WANG: The federal government is going to engage in fear tactics, storming into people's homes in early morning hours in order to deter others.

BURNETT: Secretary Johnson says, quote, "our borders are not open to illegal immigration. If you come here illegally, we will send you back, consistent with our laws and values." John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.