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U.S. Raids Target Undocumented Immigrants

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Federal immigration officials are in a major push right now. They are targeting Central American families for deportation. Now, these are people who crossed into the United States from Mexico last year during a surge in migration. They were detained then and told that they would be ordered to leave the country if they did not have legal options to stay. And so immigration officials say these sweeps should come as no surprise. So far, as least 120 people have been detained. But immigration advocates are very angry about these raids. And we have one of them on the line with us. Jonathan Ryan is executive director of RAICES, a San Antonio group that provides legal services to immigrants. Jonathan, good morning.

JONATHAN RYAN: Good morning.

GREENE: Jonathan, who exactly is being rounded up here?

RYAN: The people that are being targeted by Immigration Customs Enforcement and the administration for these immigration raids are women and children who fled the violent countries in Central America and sought protection here in the United States in the form of asylum.

GREENE: Now, you mention that many of these people have been fleeing violence. And that's obviously one reason that advocates like yourself say that the United States should be sympathetic and try to help. But what do you make of the argument from the Obama administration that these are people who were warned in 2014 that if they did not have clear legal options by this point, they - you know, they faced deportation?

RYAN: I think that it's not reasonable to think that a young woman and her child who have been victims of abuse for most of their lives would be able to do what it has taken me and other practitioners years to do, which is to be able to present an asylum case before a U.S. immigration judge. This is the kind of action that we would expect from a President Trump. But that this is happening under the Obama administration is confusing and maddening.

GREENE: You brought up Donald Trump there. He, it seems, is taking credit for all of this. He tweeted last week - and I'm just quoting here. He said, "Democrats and President Obama are now, because of me, starting to deport people who are here illegally."

RYAN: I think that Donald Trump has a lot of reason to take credit for this action. There is no crisis of people coming in at the border. What we are seeing here is the Obama administration arming itself against Republican or right-wing attacks. The problem is, is that it's building this suit of armor out of the souls of these women and children who sought protection here. And what they found instead was detention, police state, borderline tyranny - in some respects, the exact same treatment that they were fleeing from.

GREENE: I guess someone might hear tyranny and a comparison made between the United States and some of the countries that these families are coming from and might push back on you there a little bit.

RYAN: I think that... I'm not trying to throw that gauntlet out there. I mean, I...

GREENE: No, no, I understand. I think our listeners will find it very valuable to hear you kind of flesh this out, so - and...

RYAN: Those of us advocates who have been working along the border with refugee populations for many years have unfortunately witnessed that our own government often replicates the very harsh police tactics, the persecutory behavior that we hear about from refugees fleeing countries like Eritrea. It's the same sort of harsh interrogation, detention and enforcement that we hear about from police states.

GREENE: That's Jonathan Ryan. He's the executive director of the advocacy group RAICES. Thanks for talking with us, Jonathan.

RYAN: Thanks for your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.