The Trump administration has begun to arrest parents and relatives it suspects of paying to have children smuggled to the United States, sparking fierce criticism from immigrant advocates that officials are interrogating vulnerable migrant children with the intent of separating families.
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement say the new “surge initiative,” which involves identifying and arresting parents, relatives and others who have paid criminal organizations to bring children into the country, is a humanitarian effort to target human smugglers.
“ICE aims to disrupt and dismantle end-to-end the illicit pathways used by transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling facilitators,” said Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokeswoman. “The sponsors who have placed children directly into harm’s way by entrusting them to violent criminal organizations will be held accountable for their role in these conspiracies.”
Refugee and immigrant advocacy groups across the country, however, are pushing back against officials’ claims of acting in the interest of children. They argue that the government is manipulating children fleeing persecution and violence in Central America in a bid to target their loved ones and sow fear across migrant communities.
“Don’t be fooled here by claims that this is an effort to protect children from smugglers,” Michelle Brane, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said in conference call with reporters Friday. “What we’re seeing here is the United States government using children as bait with the clear intent of punishing parents and deterring them from protecting their children.”
The administration’s policy, Brane added, “is not only un-American and cruel. It’s just bad policy.”
During President Obama’s administration, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence and gang activity in Central America were placed with sponsors, usually parents and close relatives, as they applied for legal status in the United States.
By Jenny Jarvie for Los Angeles Times
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