The 55 immigration courts in the United States have handed down 10,142 deportation orders for Central American youngsters who came to this country unaccompanied by an adult since 2014.
Of those, according to data from the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, 8,912 were issued in absentia.
Immigration activists say that in the last week of January federal agents began to arrest undocumented men and women with a very specific profile: young Central Americans who arrived as minors but who are now over 18, .
"Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is undoubtedly waiting for them to become adults in order to arrest them — that is the pattern of every one of the young people who have been captured in Charlotte," said Ana Miriam Carpio of the Salvadoran Union, which has been helping families affected by the apprehensions.
"[North Carolina] has been a kind of laboratory for the way federal immigration agents in other states will deal with young Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans that come to this country unaccompanied," Martinez said.
Jose Hernandez Paris, executive director of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, said that at a meeting with ICE at which they pleaded with agents not to arrest young people at school bus stops or on their way to class, the officials always referred to the youths as "adults" and refused to call them "students."
"This city should not tolerate strategies that put minors in danger and isolate an entire community that has become an integral part of this city," Hernandez Paris said, adding that between 15 and 20 high school students in Charlotte are in the sights of ICE for deportation.
The aim of ICE since the beginning of the year has been to carry out repatriation orders as quickly as possible and in that way send a message to Central American countries about the inevitable fate of those planning to enter the country illegally.
"Since a month ago, when ICE started rounding up youngsters in the streets, Hispanic neighborhoods have suffered constant anguish and terror," Byron Martinez of the civil rights organization United We Stand, based in Gaston County, North Carolina, said.