Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is urging President Barack Obama to stop the nationwide immigration raids launched this weekend, aimed at deporting Central American children and families.
“I urge you to immediately end these raids and not deport families back to countries where a death sentence awaits," Sen. Sanders wrote in a letter addressed to President Obama on Thursday.
Sanders is the latest Democrat to blast Obama over new immigration raids primarily targeting unaccompanied children and families who came across the Southern border illegally over the last two years. More than 100,000 immigrants have entered the U.S. from several points of entry since the beginning of 2014. Most of them claim to be fleeing gang related violence in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
"Raids are not the answer. We cannot continue to employ inhumane tactics involving rounding up and deporting tens of thousands of immigrant families to address a crisis that requires compassion," Sanders wrote.
"It is critical to acknowledge that most of these families are refugees seeking asylum and entitled to humanitarian protection and legal counsel," he added.
Sanders believes Obama should use his executive authority to grant these children and families temporary protection from deportation instead.
The leading Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, has not released an official statement on the issue but a spokeswoman for her campaign on Monday said Clinton had "real concerns" about the raids and believes large-scale raids and roundups should not be conducted.
Just this past weekend, the Department of Homeland Security rounded up 121 people from Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, in raids that took place mainly in residential neighborhoods. Secretary Jeh Johnson says those targeted had been issued final orders of removal by immigration courts and exhausted all legal avenues and appeals to stay legally.
The Obama administration believes these raids in part serve as a deterrent to keep people from crossing illegally.
Latino political groups and even foreign ministries in Guatemala and Honduras have condemned the raids. Immigration advocates say the raids are targeting vulnerable women and children who fled their countries to escape gang-related violence, domestic abuse and extortion. Many have legitimate asylum claims, they say, but lack the proper legal counsel.
“Invading homes is inhumane and adds to the trauma of these families fleeing violence and oppression," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman. "These minors could be our sons, daughters, nieces and nephews.
On Wednesday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Il.), said the raids are not consistent with the values of the Democratic party and questioned why the raids took place over the Christmas, New Year’s, and Three Kings holidays.
"What is undeniable is that such raids strike maximum fear in immigrant communities," Gutierrez said. "The government is saying they could be coming to your house and they could be coming at any time. Already, we are seeing signs of panic. We hear that children are not going to school and parents are not going to work out of fear."
However, those in support of stricter immigration law, like Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said the raids are too little too late and are a "drop in the bucket" compared to how many undocumented immigrants have been allowed in.
The conservative Latino grassroots organization The Libre Initiative took advantage of the raids to remind Latino voters that Obama has failed to live up to his promise to provide lasting real immigration reform.
"President Obama calls himself a champion of immigration, yet he failed to make reform a priority even when his own party controlled both Houses of Congress," said Libre's Executive Director Daniel Garza in a statement. "The next president must have a realistic plan to work with Congress to finally get this done because without true leadership, these problems will never be solved."