Daybreak of Jan. 2, federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went knocking on doors in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina, taking 121 immigrants into custody for deportation under federal government orders.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies call for all refugees denied legal status to leave the country. If they fail to do so, ICE holds them in detention centers for up to 30 days before deporting them.
The detained immigrants, mostly women and children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, were given the chance to petition for asylum before undergoing a formal deportation process.
According to the ICE, individual adults are turned around right at the border.
Concerns have been raised among activist groups and students about the execution of these arrests and the court rulings to return the immigrants back to the countries they fled from.
Georgia State Political Science Professor Henry Carey said he thinks it’s inhumane and unjust to return someone to “torture and persecution” when they haven’t committed a crime.
“Parents from these countries are desperate to get their children out, because in these countries, young boys are recruited by gangs, trained to kill and deal drugs, and murdered if they don’t comply,” he said. “These countries are like war zones.”
According to Carey, anyone who can get past the border has a legal right to petition for asylum.
But earning legal residency, he said, is close to impossible, especially in Georgia which currently holds a five percent asylum approval rate.
Refugees have one to three minutes to present a case in front of an immigration judge, often times with no legal counsel, Carey said.
“Some judges even require documentation from illegal immigrants, which makes absolutely no sense,” he said.
After a decision has been made by the judge to remove the immigrants from the country, they stay in detention centers while the ICE organizes their deportation.
ICE Communications Director Bryan Cox said the facilities include recreation areas, medical centers, and the detainees are served the same food as the staff.
“The immigrants are held in detention, but it is non-punitive in nature,” he said. “I don’t think it’s somewhere you’d like to vacation in, but it’s definitely not a prison facility.”
Carey said that he believes the deportations and the manner of the ICE officers were unconstitutional and disrespectful for human rights of migrants and refugees.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights advocacy organization, the officers entered without consent and had no warrants.
Cox claimed that’s because detaining people for illegal immigration requires a different process than does a criminal case.
“Warrants are issued only in criminal cases; this is civil law, and ICE conducted civil immigration enforcement in accordance with a civil order issued by an immigration judge in full compliance with the Fourth Amendment,” he said.
He also said that, while in criminal cases the government is required to provide an attorney to any individual that does not already have one, in immigration cases people are only given legal counsel if they ask for it.
“When they took them to the detention centers, they forced them to sign documents, and when the women denied and asked for lawyers, the agents told them they had no other choice but to sign, and did not call for legal counsel,” Eunice Cho, attorney for SPLC, said.
As for ICE’s manner of arrests, Cox said the officers did not violate any rights the individuals taken into custody had already had their case heard and denied by an immigration judge.
“ICE is only the enforcement arm and doesn’t make the determination of who should be deported. That is done by the immigration judges under the Department of Justice. Every individual we had to arrest we did so according to civil law procedures, and entered all homes with consent,” Cox said.
But students and research by the Southern Poverty Law Center have another story. A report by SPLC and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) stated that the agents tricked many of the immigrants into letting them inside their homes.
Juan Kevin Trejo, a Georgia State student and participant of the recent protests in Georgia State said his friends are suspicious about the ICE’s ways of entrance.
“There are a lot of articles going around, a lot of people saying that the officers provided people with pictures of individuals that were wanted, or they were looking for, and then asked to enter their homes to check that no one was there,” he said.
Cho said that several courts have concluded that the ICE is going into homes using ruses. Cho said the agents pretended to be police that were tipped off on a suspect living inside the immigrant women’s homes. When the women let them inside their houses, the agents revealed their identities and began their arrests.
A fight for the undocumented
Ashley Rivas-Triana, an immigrant and undocumented student, said even for the ones that do get to stay in the U.S under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, there is a constant reminder of the lack of legal status, as they are banned from Georgia’s top five public colleges, and forced to pay out-of-state or international tuition to the colleges they attend.
DACA was established by the Obama administration in 2012, and allowed children who came into the country before the age of 16 or before June 2007 to be exempt from deportation and receive a renewable two-year work permit.
“Undocumented individuals and students with DACA do have a legal presence, they pay taxes, have work permits, driver’s licenses, but we are not allowed to attend the state’s best colleges,” she said.
Rivas-Triana said she still identifies as undocumented even after the establishment of DACA. She attends Freedom University, an underground university funded by volunteers and donations for undocumented students. Freedom University was established five years ago by Georgia professors in response to the discriminatory policy for undocumented students.
The university recently organized sit-ins in the top five Georgia universities, in protest of the state’s Supreme Court’s recent ruling for out-of-state tuition for undocumented and DACA students.
“We are inspired by the legacy of Freedom Schools during the Civil Rights Era, because that’s what undocumented individuals face today,” she said. ”The best Georgia colleges are segregated, and the sit-ins we recently organized was a way for us to integrate a classroom with documented and undocumented students.”
Trejo said that even though he is not undocumented himself, it only felt fair to participate.
“These are people I grew up with, went to highschool with. We both got the same education,and then suddenly they are denied to go to the college I go do, even if we’re no different at all,” he said.