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U.S. to step up arrests, deportation of undocumented immigrants

Responding to a surge of Central Americans coming to the U.S. in recent years, the Department of Homeland Security has planned a month of raids on immigrants found to have crossed the southwest border illegally. Reuters reporter Julia Edwards, who broke the story this week, joins Alison Stewart in New York to discuss.

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  • ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    In the coming weeks, the Department of Homeland Security is planning to step up the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants whose asylum claims have been denied. Many asylum seekers said they had fled violence in Central America. The deportations will most immediately affect some 50,000 migrants arrested crossing the southwest U.S. border between last October and this March.

    "Reuters" reporter Julia Edwards, who covers homeland security, broke the story this week, and she joins me now from Washington to discuss it. Julia, these raids are coming in response to a surge of people coming from Central America. Who's coming and why the surge?

  • JULIA EDWARDS, REUTERS:

    So, we know that women and children, some traveling together, some children traveling without a guardian have been coming up from the three countries in Central America they call the "Northern Triangle." That would be Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. They're escaping poverty. There has been extreme drought in that region this year and they're also escaping violence. There are drug cartels who have really made living conditions very poor in these places.

    And so, since 2014, we really began to see a surge of people coming across the border, up through Mexico taking very dangerous journeys, often paying human smugglers exorbitant prices just to get them across the border. But we saw a bit of a dip in 2015. The Department of Homeland Security thought that they had more or less gotten this problem under control by trying to get the message back to Central America that illegal immigrants could not stay in the United States.

    However, at the end of last year and coming up until about last March, the latest numbers we have available, there's actually been a surge again.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    There were raids like this in January. So, these raids that are going to happen in the incomes month or so — allegedly going to happen in the incomes month or so — how are they expected to be different?

  • JULIA EDWARDS:

    So, the raids in January were just over two days — January 2nd and 3rd and they focused on three states. That was Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina. These raids are to take place over a 30-day period nationwide, and a document that went out to the field offices, it explained to each enforcement field office to go ahead and take inventory of who was in their field, who had already gotten a final order of deportation.

    And that's a point that the White House is really trying to drive home as well, is that these are people who have actually gone through the court system. Their cases have been heard. They were not granted asylum and a judge has ordered them to have deportation. In January, it was 121 women and children who were arrested. This time, we're likely to see many more than that.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    Once people are apprehended, where do they go? How long is the process?

  • JULIA EDWARDS:

    We know that in January, when ICE agents came to the doors of these families often in the early morning hours, arrested them, they brought them to detention facilities. There is one — very notable one in Dilley, Texas, where women and children were kept where they could be processed. There was a bit of back-and-forth that goes on there while they're at the detention facility. If they are approved, they will then be put on planes and deported back.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    The two candidates reasoning for the Democratic ticket have criticized the Obama's administration strategy here. How does the administration defend it?

  • JULIA EDWARDS:

    The White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday was asked about, how do you defend this policy? What he stuck to is it is in the president's authorities to deport people who are recently arrival, and in this case, that's people who have arrived after January 1st, 2014.

    That date is important because, of course, we saw a surge start around 2014. And at the same time that Obama laid out his immigration executive action in November of 2014, we saw that there was another caveat to that, that while he was going to protect some people from deportation, there were other people who were priorities for deportations, and that was criminal aliens and also new arrivals.

    It's sort of also the strategy of we can't deport everyone who's here, that's 11 million people. But we want to try to increase our borders and send a message that: no, you cannot come to the United States illegally and expect to stay.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    Julia Edwards from "Reuters," thank you for sharing your reporting.

  • JULIA EDWARDS:

    Thank you.

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