Four families picked up in New Year's weekend immigration arrests and who were being readied for removal from the country now have their deportations on temporary hold.
George Tzamaras, a spokesman for American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Wednesday the families' attorneys put forward a defense that the immigrants had not received all their due process, that mistakes were made in their legal proceedings and that they had ineffective counsel.
Patricia Zapor, a spokeswoman for Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said four families were in line for deportation and had been taken to Dilley, Texas, detention center to be deported. Twelve people, all belonging to the four families, got temporary stays of their deportations from the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Flights to return migrants to their countries were scheduled for today but it was not immediately clear whether those families were to be on them.
Interviews with the families "revealed that these families have bona fide asylum claims, but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court," said Katie Shepherd, managing attorney for the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project
The arrests have drawn opposition from Latinos and immigration groups.
"Raiding people's homes to forcibly break families apart is not what our country stands for," Rep. Linda Sanchez, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement. "Our federal government should not be separating parents from their children."
The California Democrat said Congress must ensure the families are advised of their rights and provided counsel and that comprehensive immigration reform is the only way to solve the problem of increased illegal immigration.
The request for a stay of the families' deportation was made through the CARA project, which include CLINIC, AILA, American Immigration Council and Refugee and the Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. Lawyers are meeting with additional families.
The Department of Homeland Security targeted migrant families, many of them women and children who had arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 when the U.S. saw a spike in migrants from Central America and Mexico. Many were detained after their arrival but the federal government was forced by a court to release them, an order that the Obama administration is appealing.
There has been a recent increase again in arrivals from Central America and Mexico.
The agency said they targeted families who had orders of removal and had exhausted all their legal appeals to remain in the country. But groups such as CLINIC, which provide pro bono legal services for families, said many of the families had not had lawyers or knew of legal relief available to them.
Additionally, advocates and attorneys said ICE could have used other methods to arrest the families. Many were complying with immigration and ICE orders, they said.
One mother had checked in every three weeks with ICE officers for a year, wore an electronic monitor and turned in her children's passports as asked.
"ICE could have taken her into custody in far less frightening and invasive methods than sending seven armed ICE agents to her home to detain the mother and her four children," CARA said in a news release.
The arrests have become a political issue as immigration has taken center stage in presidential campaigns and Democrats have sought to separate themselves from Republicans on immigration.
CARA listed some "trends" they have encountered with eight families that were arrested in the immigration operation and detained again in Dilley. Among their findings:
_ Many mothers did not understand the legal process or know they could appeal a negative ruling from a judge. One mother, a victim of "extreme" domestic violence, never got the chance to present her claim for asylum to an immigration judge.
- None of the families saw a warrant before Immigration and Customs Enforcement entered their home.
- ICE refused to let some women meet with CARA to discuss their cases.
Bryan Cox, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said ICE does not deny anyone the right to counsel should they want legal representation. He also said that ICE was conducting civil enforcement and immigration judge's orders. "A warrant is only issued in criminal cases," he said.