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Over the weekend, U.S. immigration officers picked up scores of people in several states who have been ordered deported. They're mainly young mothers from Central America and their children, who entered the U.S. illegally last year. The raids have made a lot of immigrants and their advocates nervous, concerned that more raids are coming with little or no recourse for people facing deportation. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Here at Atlas: DIY, a Brooklyn advocacy group for young immigrants, the new year began with hours of phone calls to their clients.
J. J. MULLIGAN: (Speaking Spanish).
WANG: That's immigration attorney J. J. Mulligan.
How many calls have you made today?
MULLIGAN: Today, I've made about seven or eight. It kind of took over the day, really.
WANG: Mulligan's been calling people who have lost their immigration cases and are waiting to be deported. He's trying to prepare them for raids that may come, like last weekend's in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas.
MULLIGAN: The government's showing up in the middle of the night at your home, pounding on the door. I mean, that's terrifying. These are people that have lived in the shadows. And that's, like, their biggest fear realized.
WANG: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson oversees U.S. immigrations and customs enforcement, or ICE. He said in a statement that all of the people ICE picked up during the recent raids have, quote, "exhausted appropriate legal remedies." And that's why Jessica Vaughn supports the raids, though with some reservations. She's the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for more restrictive immigration policies.
JESSICA VAUGHN: It's appropriate for ICE to be going around and gathering up people and sending them home, but ICE shouldn't have to do that.
WANG: Vaughn argues that raids could be avoided if the U.S. immigration policy discouraged more people from entering the U.S. illegally in the first place and that relying on raids is one more sign of a broken system.
VAUGHN: They are expensive. They're potentially dangerous for ICE officers. And they're alarming to others in the community when they see people being removed from their homes - or what has become their home - and sent back to their home country.
WANG: Immigrant advocates offer another criticism of the raids, which is they don't work. Pablo Alvarado heads the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. He says raids are not an effective deterrent to the recent uptick of illegal crossings along the southern border. Over the past couple years, more than 100,000 families from Central American have entered the U.S. Alvarado says many have no choice but to flee from the violence and insecurity in their home countries.
PABLO ALVARADO: When families find out the risk of staying is bigger than the risk of leaving, they will definitely take the road. So that's not going to deter people.
WANG: And Alvarado and other immigrant advocates say there's another problem - people who have been through the courts and now face deportation may not have had adequate legal help to navigate the immigration system.
ALVARADO: It's an obsolete set of laws that must be modernized. And the reality is that the legal system has failed these people.
WANG: Thirty-eight-year-old Gloria Rivas of El Salvador crossed the border from Mexico illegally last May with her 12-year-old daughter. She says, last weekend, ICE officers first picked up her daughter, who then led them to the hotel where Rivas worked as a housekeeper.
GLORIA RIVAS: (Speaking Spanish).
WANG: "They treat us like criminals," Rivas says from a phone at a Texas detention center. "The truth is, we're not. We're just looking to save our lives and the lives of our kids." Rivas says she left El Salvador to escape gang violence and isn't sure what would happen if she returned.
RIVAS: (Speaking Spanish).
WANG: "The truth is I don't know," she says, "but the gangs have never been interested in anyone's life." Rivas' lawyers say the Board of Immigration Appeals has temporarily delayed her deportation to review her case, though NPR was not able to confirm that order with the board before broadcast. The Department of Homeland Security says it will enforce the law, and raids will continue this year as appropriate. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.