New York – At least 20 people swept up in last week’s immigration raids have been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation because they had not exhausted their legal options – and four more families are also waiting a stay that would allow their appeals to be heard, their lawyers told Fox News Latino.
Among those whose deportations were halted were three mothers and five children targeted in the raid who were pulled out of a plane Thursday morning as they were in the process of being deported to El Salvador. Those three families, who had boarded a plane in Texas, narrowly escaped deportation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had raided their homes last weekend during an operation that targeted adults and their children in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, many escaping gang-related violence in their Central American homes. They had been sent to a family detention center in Dilley, Texas. But to at least eight families, including the ones pulled off the plane, the Board of Immigration Appeals halted their deportation because there were still legal avenues they had not pursued in their immigration case.
Advocates say these episodes call into question how thorough the agency is to make sure they do not expel immigrants who still have a right to pursue their cases. They also say the immigrants are the victims of a legal system that has failed them.
“Getting a stay from the Board of Immigration Appeals is actually pretty difficult,” said Laura Lichter, general counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “The fact that they’ve been granted and 100 percent granted is pretty significant. The sad part is … there are another 100 that haven’t seen an attorney, that don’t know they can appeal and that are most likely going to be removed that are going to face serious harm.”
But ICE insists that the immigrants had ample opportunities to appeal their cases before the raid – and had not. So it was well within its legal justification to remove them.
As of Tuesday night, 12 people (four mothers with two children each) had received temporary relief from deportation while their case was appealed. By Thursday afternoon, eight more people (two mothers with two children and one with one child) received stays. Lawyers said four more families had pending appeals as of Thursday evening.
“We are talking about real people who have real relief but the system has failed them,” said Lichter.
By January 4, ICE had detained 121 people. A total of 77 of these detainees were deported to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, ICE told Fox News Latino. These people had deportation orders from a judge, did not have pending appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals and the time to file their appeals had expired,according to an ICE statement reasserting the validity of their raids.
But lawyers in Dilley found that almost all the women they spoke to hadn’t filed the appeals they were entitled to because, in some cases, they were poorly represented and, in others, they weren’t informed of subsequent steps.
In these cases, deportation orders were late (generally such an action is allowed within 30 days of a judge’s ruling), which means that stays were granted on a case-by-case basis.
Lawyers expressed dismay at the fact that ICE had placed people on a plane knowing they had filed for an appeal and a stay.
“We don’t think any vulnerable kids and moms should be returned to the northern triangle now,” said Lindsay Harris, a legal fellow with the American Immigration Council. “Certainly, legally, ICE is supposed to allow all pending legal processes to play out prior to deportation.”
ICE would not comment on matters pending litigation but reinforced their raids.
“While ICE will respect any lawfully issued stays of removal,” the ICE statement said, “we also reserve the right to pursue any legal avenues available to us to further litigate these matters.”
Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.