Hundreds of families who fled violence in Central America and are now living in the US could be deported in a nationwide campaign kicking off as early as January. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are expected to conduct a series of raids targeting those families that an immigration judge has already found should be removed, reports the Washington Post, calling it "the first large-scale effort" of its kind. The campaign, which still needs Homeland Security's final approval, has been debated for months within the Obama administration but is reportedly backed by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. Among the factors reportedly compelling him, per sources: a 173% jump in the number of families seized at the border in October and November compared to the year prior, and a recent court order forcing DHS to start releasing families currently in detention centers.
"These families are refugees seeking asylum who should be given humanitarian protection rather than being detained or rounded up," says a rep for the American Immigration Lawyers Association of the news. "When other countries are welcoming far more refugees, the US should be ashamed for using jails and even contemplating large-scale deportation tactics." In some cases, families may be forced to return to a country in a worse state than when they left it; the Post reports El Salvador's murder rate has reached its highest level "in a generation" and is also battling a drought. Others, however, note that more than 100,000 families have crossed the southwest border in the last year, and those deported in the potential raids will only be "a drop in the bucket."