The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the U.S. since the start of last year, reports the Washington Post. The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors.
The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the U.S. by an immigration judge. The adults and children would be detained wherever they can be found and immediately deported. The number targeted is expected to be in the hundreds and possibly greater. The proposed deportations have been controversial inside the Obama administration. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has been pushing for the moves, in part because of a new spike in the number of illegal immigrants in recent months. Experts say that the violence that was a key factor in driving people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. A drought has also prompted departures from the region. The pressure for deportations has also mounted because of a recent court decision that ordered DHS to begin releasing families housed in detention centers.