Washington: Democratic lawmakers criticised President Barack Obama today over a wave of arrests of Central American migrants for the purpose of expelling them.
US authorities announced last week they had arrested 121 adults and children, mainly in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. These families started arriving in May 2014 and had been served with expulsion orders.
"Our immigration enforcement efforts should be humane and conducted in accordance with due process, and that is why I believe we must stop the raids happening in immigrant communities," Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, said Monday.
"We have laws and we must be guided by those laws, but we shouldn't have armed federal officers showing up at peoples' homes, taking women and children out of their beds in the middle of the night," Clinton said in a statement that was unusually critical of the president.
In Congress, where Obama was to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, 135 Democrats co-signed a letter asking that the raids targeting immigrants stop immediately.
"We strongly condemn the Department of Homeland Security's recent enforcement operation targeting refugee mothers and children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala," the letter reads.
Those are the home countries of many undocumented foreigners who have arrived in recent years by crossing the Mexican border. In 2014, the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors triggered a political crisis in the United States.
Republicans accused the White House of being lax, and ruled out any attempt to legalize the status of the 11 million foreigners living in the United States without proper residency papers.
The lawmakers contrasted the reception given to refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East with the policy of "dissuasion" they said the Obama administration was carrying out to counter arrivals of Central Americans.
But the White House defended its policy of promoting legalization of undocumented foreigners who had been here the longest, mainly those who came to the United States as children.
However, it asked security forces to concentrate on expelling undocumented foreigners with criminal records or those who arrived recently.
"And it was only after individuals had -- had exhausted the legal remedies available to them to claim asylum or to be granted some other form of humanitarian relief -- only then -- you know, was a decision made to remove them," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.