WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration arrested more than 120 immigrants during two days of raids targeting Central American families who came to the country illegally since 2014. The arrests of immigrants who had been ordered out of the country prompted protests from immigration advocates and lawmakers who have said the enforcement harms families and is a dangerous precedent.
A look at what happened and who was targeted.
WHAT DID IMMIGRATION AGENTS DO?
Starting Jan. 2, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents went looking for immigrants who had illegally crossed the border with their families since May 2014 and had been ordered out of the country by a judge. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said immigration agents sought out people who had "exhausted all appropriate legal remedies."
After two days of raids, 121 people from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico were arrested. Arrests were made primarily in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. To date, 77 people from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico have been sent home. The remaining 44 people are fighting their deportation orders.
WHAT PROMPTED THE RAIDS?
After the numbers of families caught crossing the border spiked in 2014, the administration started opening detention centers designed to house several thousand families while their cases were processed in federal immigration court. But the number of beds never met the number of people caught crossing the border and a federal judge in California ruled last year that the government was violating a longstanding agreement not to detain children. While the government is fighting that ruling, immigration officials have stopped detaining most families for any extensive period of time.
The overall number of illegal border crossings by families and unaccompanied children dropped by about half during the 2015 budget year that ended in September, but starting in about July the numbers started to increase again. Since the start of the 2016 budget year in October, more than 21,400 people traveling as families have been arrested. During the same period in 2015, about 7,400 such immigrants were apprehended.
Johnson has repeatedly said that the "borders are not open to illegal immigration" and people who cross the border illegally will face deportation. In the wake of the early January arrests, he reiterated that recent border crossers who have been ordered out of the country are an enforcement priority and added that "additional enforcement actions such as these will continue to occur as appropriate."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE REACTION?
Immigration advocates and Democratic lawmakers have denounced the raids and have called on the administration to halt enforcement efforts and any pending deportations.
"This must stop and it must stop today," Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York said last week. "Immigrants and their families are terrorized. ... These are some of the most vulnerable members of society and we are treating them like criminals."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said earlier that he'd contacted the Homeland Security Department "to have them just back off till we can find out a better way to do this."
HAS THIS AFFECTED THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN?
Yes. Candidates have taken counter-intuitive positions on the raids, with leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton criticizing President Barack Obama and Donald Trump supporting the raids.
Clinton on Monday described the enforcement operations as "mass deportations" that sow "division and fear."
Trump not only supported the raids on Twitter, but seemed to take credit for the administration's efforts.
On Dec. 24 he wrote, "Wow, because of the pressure put on by me, ICE TO LAUNCH LARGE SCALE DEPORTATION RAIDS. It's about time!"
Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap