As the U.S. government conducted nationwide raids on undocumented immigrant families, Bostonians gathered at the State House steps on January 7 to show solidarity and denounce the country’s mass deportation efforts. The night also marked the Feast Day of the Epiphany, an important feast day in Latin American countries celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Men visiting Jesus in Bethlehem.
“Tonight we are under attack,” said Patricia Montes, director of Centro Presente.
According to The Washignton Post, citing anonymous sources familiar with the operation, the raids target adults and children who would be detained wherever they’re found and immediately deported. At least hundreds of undocumented immigrants are expected to be deported.
In particular, the operation targets Central Americans who crossed the border.
The Department of Homeland Security planned the raids in response to a spike in immigration waves spurred by immigrants fleeing violence in their home countries. The operation is carried out by members of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In Boston, ralliers heard testimony from two immigrants who fled their home countries due to violence and frequent threats.
Saul came to the U.S. from Guatemala two months ago. “I’m from a place where it doesn’t mater who they kill—women get killed, elderly get killed,” he said through a translator. “I was forced to leave due to violence, and came to the United States because I thought this was a place of opportunity.”
Fatima came to the U.S. from El Salvador about a year and a half ago. “I didn’t come here because I wanted tocome here,” she said, also through a translator. “I was living happily with my family in my country.” However, like Saul, her family was extorted by violent gangs in the mountainous region of San Miguel—“they told us if we paid them, we could live in peace.”
The action was organized by Centro Presente, but organizations like Student Immigration Movement, also showed up, and State Senator Jamie Eldridge also spoke, denouncing the mass deportations and raids.
— Alejandro Ramirez (@ramirezalej) January 6, 2016
Speakers at the action even compared the situation of deportees to that of los desaparecidos—the “disappeared” citizens who vanished under Latin American dictatorships—and called for refuge and asylum.
Similarly, Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told The Washington Post: “This administration has never acknowledged the truth: that these families are refugees seeking asylum who should be given humanitarian protection rather than being detained or rounded up. When other countries are welcoming far more refugees, the U.S. should be ashamed for using jails and even contemplating large-scale deportation tactics.”
In the same article, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the wave of undocumented immigrants was “a drop in the bucket” compared to the numbers of those legally admitted, and that the raids were “just for show.”
The DHS argues that “our border is not open to illegal immigration, and if individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief, and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our laws and our values.”
Activists argue the raids don’t reflect American values—they tear families apart and strike fear into communities.
“I remember growing up in fear of Immigration [services],” said Cairo Mendes of Student Immigrant Movement.
The crowd joins hands and shouts names of the detained, and soon break into a protest song. pic.twitter.com/04v6A4roHj
— Alejandro Ramirez (@ramirezalej) January 7, 2016
While Republicans often try to paint President Obama as soft on border control, activists point out his administration has deported over two million individuals, earning him the nickname “Deporter in Chief.” The raids have resulted in backlash from various Latino groups, and even Democratic candidates Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are distancing themselves from the operation.
DHS announced last Monday that 121 adults and children were rounded up in raids last weekend, primarily from Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. According to the statement, these immigrants had been previously issued orders of removal by immigration courts and “have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws.” The operation isn’t expected to halt or slow down anytime soon.
Boston passed a trust act in 2014, meaning local police won’t detain undocumented immigrants for ICE to deport, save for extreme cases. Initially, the Boston Globe reported there were no arrests in the New England area, but a more recent article profiled one Guatemalan deportee from Lynn, and acknowledges that the raids are continuing.