Many have praised Obama for this executive action, and even more were moved by Obama’s televised tears. Certainly, what happened at Sandy Hook deserves tears, deep reflection and action. But Obama’s tears seem like pure hypocrisy when we consider that at exactly the same moment, Central American children as young as four years old are being held in detention facilities with their parents, waiting to be sent back to countries that they sought refuge from.
The deportations began as early as January 2, with ICE directing raids against Central American families seeking refuge in the United States. ICE officers came in the middle of the night, forcing their way into homes without warrants, detaining men, women and children. As of January 6, 121 families have been detained. There are several allegations of ICE misconduct during these raids, including deceiving immigrant families by claiming they were police officers looking for an African American suspect in order to gain entry into their homes. The families who are being detained for deportation are being held in detention facilities in Texas.
These deportations are directed towards Central Americans, who are not only escaping poverty, but also violence. According to a UNHCR report, 58 percent of migrating children suffered or were threatened with “serious physical harm.” In other words, many of the recent immigrants are refugees from Central America who made the dangerous and life-threatening trek to the United States because they were fearful of the violence in their home countries. There are essentially regional wars in each of these three countries run by drug lords and gangs.
The immigrants come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world: 90 murders per 100,000 people. In the US the murder rate is 5 per 100,000. Many of the recent refugees are unaccompanied children, attempting to come to the US to join family members . According to The Guardian, since 2014, at least 83 Central American immigrants were killed after being deported .
The current situation in Central America is largely a product of bloody US intervention, from the organizations of death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s against the FMLN, to the support of the “contras” in Nicaragua and the genocide of indigenous people in Guatemala. These imperialist measures left behind a poor, traumatized, and disjointed society in which drug and human trafficking is pervasive. The US continues to intervene in Central America and Mexico through the Merida Iniative, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking, but actually becoming another player in the network of crime and murder. The Merida Iniative has been tied to attacks like the raiding of Zapatista strongholds in Chiapas and breaking up a union that represented 40 thousand electrical workers.
The deportations have specifically targeted families. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said that ICE agents “engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children.” Any deportation is cruel: it is violent, terrifying, and separates people from their loved ones. Deportations that focus on families with children who seek refuge from violence is all the more cruel and inhumane.
“What message is sent by a president whose first action in the new year is to destroy families—to rip children from their homes and communities? In recent years, too many lives have been ruined by heartless and racist deportation policies. Home raids are inherently destructive and terrorize immigrant communities,” said Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
These raids come in stark contrast to Obama’s promises of “more humane” immigration policies . He criticized Republicans for their anti-immigrant rhetoric, saying that it was “contrary to who we are,” going on to say, “Unless you are a Native American, your family came from someplace else.” Apparently, it is not “contrary to who we are” to deport families with young children back to their dangerous homeland. In 2012, just before his re-election, Obama temporarily halted deporting undocumented children- an obvious attempt to win the Latino vote. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any other president in US history-Democrat or Republican. In 2016, Obama begins the new year deporting Central American families.
Life, liberty, happiness, and gun control- for whom?
While Central American children sit in detention centers, Obama cries on national television, lamenting the loss of children to gun violence.
What is most interesting however, is the immense hypocrisy of his justification for these changes, stating, “Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well…Our right to peaceful assembly -– that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our inalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -– those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown.” Not surprisingly, the violence suffered by poor Black kids by police and the national guard during protests comes as an afterthought.
This blatant hypocrisy should be taken as evidence that the Democratic party’s “reforms” are empty promises; despite prattle about immigrants’ rights, their actions are just as bad as the Republicans’. These deportations point us to the need to fight against American foreign policy in Central America that forces families to leave, fleeing violence. They show us the need to open the United States to all immigrants, from Syrians to Central Americans, getting rid of ICE once and for all.