LOS ANGELES — White House officials hope the decision to launch scores of immigration raids targeting Central American immigrants will act as a deterrent against a new wave of mass migration by women and children fleeing violence in the region.
During a closed door meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, officials said the raids were “a clear way to send a signal to folks in Central America not to come,” a lawmaker in the meeting told BuzzFeed News Thursday.
The lawmaker, who asked not to be named so as to speak freely, characterized the meeting as tense. “Everyone was pissed off they did these raids,” the lawmaker said.
Asked about the meeting, an administration official told BuzzFeed News that while the administration is aware of violent conditions in parts of Central America, people who had crossed into the country illegally will be sent home after "being provided an opportunity to have their cases heard."
"As we have said, in the spring and summer of 2014, our country saw an unprecedented spike in families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to illegally cross our southern border ... While we recognize the serious underlying conditions that cause some people to flee their home countries, at the same time we cannot allow our borders to be open to illegal migration," the administration official told BuzzFeed News on Thursday. "Those who come here illegally will be sent home after being provided an opportunity to have their cases heard, consistent with our laws and values."
The official also noted that the raids were part of a strategy announced in November 2014 in response to the surge of undocumented immigrants and that, “As a nation, we must secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws consistent with our priorities. At all times, we endeavor to do this consistent with American values, and basic principles of decency, fairness, and humanity."
The Obama administration is hoping to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2014, when thousands of immigrants — largely women and children — came to the southern border amid state and gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The issue became a political flashpoint.
A new wave of immigration this summer would almost certainly become a major political war: Immigration has dominated the Republican primary so far, and masses of immigrants showing up at the border during the convention could prove complicated for the Democratic nominee.
During the meeting, according to the lawmaker, the administration seemed cool to the idea of classifying immigrants from Central America as refugees as a way to allow them to remain in the country. Additionally, the lawmaker said, officials had little response when members repeatedly pointed out that Cubans who come to the U.S. are still automatically given legal status to stay in the country but Central Americans are not, even though the U.S. and Cuba have begun normalizing relations.
But when it came to lawmaker criticism of the timing of the raids, White House officials were ready. According to the lawmaker, officials insisted they had not initially intended to publicize the raids — which have enraged immigration activists — just before Christmas. But an unauthorized “leak” forced the Department of Homeland Security’s hand.
Overall, the lawmaker said while it was a “decent meeting … I will say there wasn’t a real resolution."
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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