Washington – First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization, condemns the recent actions of the Obama Administration to detain, arrest, and remove refugee mothers and children seeking safety and protection in the United States.

Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began the first immigration raids targeting Central American refugee children and their mothers who recently escaped the violence and instability gripping Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. According to reports, 121 mothers and children were arrested in the first of what is expected to be a series of raids, many apprehended in their homes by authorities while they were sleeping. In response to the vehement opposition from immigration advocates and community leaders, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson released a statement yesterday defending the department’s action.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Administration is choosing to place undue harm on children through its enforcement-only approach in dealing with this Central American refugee crisis,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus. “Rather than focus on the systemic violence that is causing children and families to desperately flee the region, the Administration has opted to continue to prioritize a misguided deterrent strategy, first by locking up mothers and babies and now by ripping children from their beds while they sleep at night.”

In his statement, Secretary Johnson cites the need to enforce the law consistent with the new enforcement priorities included in Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration. These enforcement priorities include migrants who entered after January 1, 2014, including unaccompanied children and adults who entered with children. The statement also reiterates the Administration’s intent to continue to appeal a District Court order prohibiting ICE from placing infants and toddlers in family detention facilities, despite DHS’ own data that confirms the majority of detained families have valid asylum claims in addition to consistent research documenting the dangerous effects of family detention on children’s mental and physical well-being.

Finally, the troubling statement mentions the agency’s plans to continue to partner with Mexico on strategic enforcement efforts to prevent thousands of children and families from reaching the United States, preferring to send them back to harm’s way without adequate screening for protection.

Since the inception of the humanitarian crisis last summer, First Focus has been calling on both Congress and the Administration to hold the best interest of the child paramount in all policy decisions regarding children and families seeking refuge from violence in Central America.

“We urge the Administration to do right by vulnerable children by stopping the raids, ending family detention, and providing refugee children and families with the protection they deserve,” Lesley said.


First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.firstfocus.org.