The Obama administration has announced that it will begin immigration raids to deport Central American women and children in May and June. The first round of raids in January affected North Carolina communities, and it appears that in the early days of this round, families in North Carolina have once again been a focus. These raids have already proven to generate additional apprehension, detention, legal processing and transportation costs, not to mention heightened fear and the associated drain on economic and civic participation.
The targeting of Central American women and children is particularly concerning given the violence that they are fleeing in their home country and the hope for safety that they seek in the United States. For example, El Salvador and Honduras are on track to reach the world’s highest homicide rate in 2016. And that metric is borne of countless other crimes and insecurities brought to bear on families of which sadly women and children are often the primary targets. Reports compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees include stories of domestic violence, constant threats of sexual abuse, extortion, and threats to harm family members by armed criminal groups, including gangs.
In 2016 already the federal government has ordered 2,194 individuals deported from North Carolina, making our state the sixth highest in the country. Nearly four hundred of those ordered deported are children. The cost of this federal effort in North Carolina alone is $51 million, and with the upcoming raids that cost is likely to grow. These dollars could instead be sent to North Carolina to provide counseling for children arriving with trauma, or could fund any number of investments that provide all communities with access to opportunity and security.
Beyond the costs to government that in the end we all pay, there is a far deeper impact on the individual and a greater effect on the psyche of a community. Children experience significant trauma from raids, not to mention the additional harm of increased economic hardship and residential instability if they are separated from their parents. Broader communities, whether targets or not, experience the insecurity of not knowing when their neighbor, co-worker or friend could be taken or whether they themselves could be taken by mistake.
Raids are the bluntest of tools available when those in government are responding to a complex economic and social phenomenon. Moreover, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s doubling down on raids during last week’s trip to Central America is disheartening and legally questionable as well. Immigrant rights organizations have already highlighted the legal issues related to asylum and due process issues at hand in the speedy deportations of Central American children and parents this year.
And yet at the most fundamental level, raids fly in the face of what America has said it is—a land of opportunity, of freedom and of security.