DHS using unpopular raids to curb border crossings

Published March 19, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is openly stepping up efforts to find and deport immigrants who were part of the 2014 surge of illegal crossings by unaccompanied children and families.

The politically fraught endeavor is a follow-through on a nearly 2-year-old warning that those immigrants who don't win permission to stay in the United States would be sent packing. It comes at a time when Republican presidential candidates are pushing for tougher immigration action.

Homeland Security officials have kept a wary eye on the border since more than 68,000 unaccompanied children and roughly as many people traveling as families were caught crossing the border illegally in 2014. The effort to step up enforcement against families and young immigrants started in the midst of a new flood of such immigrants.

Previous efforts to curb illegal crossings seemed to work initially, as the number of children and families crossing illegally dropped about 40 percent between 2014 and 2015. But that number started to rise again late last summer. At the same time, the immigration court system faced a backlog of more than 474,000 cases.

Now the Obama administration is touting its efforts to find and deport families as well as those unaccompanied children who are now adults who have been ordered home. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has highlighted his department's deportation efforts.

One of those unaccompanied children-turned-adults targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is 19-year-old Wildin David Guillen Acosta. He said he came to the United States from Honduras by bus, car and on foot after a gang member threatened to kill him.

"I wouldn't go out at night. He'd call me and say, 'I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill you,' " Acosta said in Spanish. "I told my mother and she told me to come to the United States."

Acosta, speaking from an immigration jail in rural Georgia, said he was afraid to go home.

"I'm scared. I don't want to go back. There's a lot of violence, a lot of death," Acosta said. "They'll kill you for a telephone. How is this possible?"

His mother, Dilsia Acosta, said her son came to the United States in June 2014 at the peak of a wave of immigrant children. His father, Hector Guillen, came to the United States illegally in 2005 and his mother followed in 2013. Wildin Acosta was arrested in January after a judge ruled that he should be deported.

Since October, more than 800 immigrants who arrived as unaccompanied children have been sent home, according to ICE statistics.