City Hall – Today, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Immigration Chair Carlos Menchaca, in an open letter, called upon United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the ICE raids targeting recently arrived Central American mothers and children. The letter stressed the harmful impact these raids have on this especially vulnerable group, as well as the destabilizing impact that such aggressive enforcement tactics have upon immigrant communities.

The letter highlights the lack of valid purpose for such an aggressive policy given that these women and children are, in fact, refugees and should not be returned to life threatening conditions. Additionally, the letter raised significant due process concerns given that thousands of these women and children did not have access to legal representation, effectively leaving them without a legitimate chance to obtain relief through the immigration court system.

“The raids must end now,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “These raids send the wrong message to families and only bring fear to immigrant communities in New York City and throughout the country. These immigrants are women and children fleeing horrific violence and must be treated as refugees- not criminals.”

Council Immigration Chair Carlos Menchaca said, “We know that these children who cross the border are escaping violence and death. These recent rounds of ICE deportations have not only ripped vulnerable children and parents away from their families, they continue to destroy the fabric of trust between the people and this federal government that continues to enforce broken laws. This City will do everything in its power to protect our most vulnerable and continue to send a message that we need immigration reform now more than ever.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Secretary Johnson:

We write to express our ardent opposition to the targeting of Central American mothers and children by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and to urge you to abandon this wrong-headed policy. It is well-documented that these mothers and children are fleeing the violence engulfing the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Targeting this particularly vulnerable group serves no public safety purpose and causes harmful and unnecessary instability in the immigrant community.

DHS has stated that this operation is limited to mothers and children who have been issued final orders of removal. Yet DHS has obtained these orders within a system that routinely deprives immigrants of basic due process rights. First–DHS ordered that the proceedings against these individuals be expedited. Mothers and children had little to no time to learn to navigate a complicated hearing process. Making matters worse, the immigration court has failed in large measure to issue proper notices of hearings resulting in thousands of immigrants failing to appear in court and being ordered removed in absentia. Most troubling though is the fact that most of those who actually made it to court had no legal representation at all and therefore no meaningful opportunity to present their cases. The shortage of qualified and ethical legal representation in both the private and not-for-profit sector coupled with these due process failures has left thousands upon thousands of mothers and children without a real chance to obtain relief in court.

More troubling than the lack of due process afforded these victimized women and children is the blatant disregard for the immediate and life threatening danger they face upon repatriation. In fact, many will find themselves at greatly increased risk of harm for attempting to evade their aggressors. It is incomprehensible that DHS refuses to differentiate between those entering the United States for familial or economic reasons and those fleeing the real and ever present threat of violence including murder and sexual assault.

The impact of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcement actions is felt far beyond those who are the purported targets of the raids. Each time there is news of impending ICE raids, the fear among the immigrant community, both authorized and undocumented, is palpable. It makes no difference to the immigrant community that DHS has announced that it is targeting recent entrants. The immigrant community knows all too well that such ICE raids regularly result in “collateral” apprehensions. As we know well in New York City, driving the immigrant community underground serves no purpose and makes our communities unsafe. In addition, the use of military-style raids against this group of non-violent individuals is unwarranted and deeply troubling. The targeted women and children pose no threat to public safety or national security.

The trust gap between DHS and the immigrant community–including U.S. citizens– is understandable given that DHS has repeatedly violated its own stated enforcement priorities. Recent entrants are the lowest of DHS’s stated enforcement priorities. To launch a surge in raids targeting recently entered women and children fleeing documented violence and danger is a waste and raises questions about your stated enforcement priorities.

We as a country have a moral obligation to help these defenseless mothers and children and to do them no harm.

We urge you to abandon this wasteful and dangerous policy.