The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights have issued a report documenting the Obama administration's "Deportation Force" that as of January 2, 2016, specifically targeted refugee women and children for deportation, utilizing clandestine warrant-less home raids that tore children from their beds under cover of night. The findings of the report are that the Obama administration has engaged in "a needlessly aggressive – and potentially unconstitutional – act against immigrants with these home raids that targeted women and children from Central America."

And Obama's "Deportation Force" is just getting started.

Here is the introduction to the report:

Before daybreak on Jan. 2, 2016, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began sweeping into homes in the Atlanta area as part of a multistate operation that ended with the detention of 121 immigrants, apparently all women and children.

The raids in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina signaled a new and alarming development by a federal government with a history of abusive immigration enforcement that is now only being made worse by its failure to effectively address the humanitarian crisis in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Rather than fulfill its commitment to protect and provide refuge to families fleeing violence and persecution in these countries, the Obama administration has taken the same fatally flawed approach to law enforcement that has led to our nation’s mass incarceration crisis. Under President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pursued needlessly aggressive – and potentially unconstitutional – law enforcement action against vulnerable immigrants. The result has been the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, including the families swept up in these raids, over the last eight years.

As this investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights demonstrates, it’s an approach that has trampled legal rights, subjected mothers and children to terrifying and unnecessary police encounters, and torn families apart. This report provides direct accounts from survivors and witnesses of the ICE raids in the Atlanta area.

As these stories show, the Atlanta raids raise grave constitutional concerns:
  • The raids appear to have been conducted without warrants. ICE agents did not show residents copies of warrants, which are required regardless of a person’s immigration status. When asked for copies of warrants or orders to enter a home, ICE agents ignored the requests, threatened residents or simply ordered them to “be quiet.”
  • ICE agents entered homes without obtaining lawful and voluntary consent.Officers used the threat of arrest and illegal coercion to obtain it. They frequently deceived residents by saying they were police officers searching for a criminal (even showing a photo of an African-American man in some instances), or by saying the women would only be gone for a few hours to allow ICE to examine their electronic ankle shackles.
  • ICE agents denied women access to lawyers. Although immigration matters are typically regarded as civil matters, which do not require the appointment of an attorney at government expense, individuals still have a constitutional right to counsel as long as it is at no cost to the government.
    ICE officials, however, would not allow the women swept up in the raids to contact their lawyers until after their removal to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas – often telling them that they had no further legal options. They also failed to notify them of a free, nonprofit legal organization at the detention center.
  • Women were instructed to sign legal documents they did not understand. On multiple occasions, ICE agents instructed detainees to sign documents that were written only in English. This is especially troubling since many women were denied access to lawyers.
  • Mothers and children with valid claims to immigration relief were detained before exhausting their legal options. Despite ICE’s assertion that all of the targeted individuals had been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, a subsequent legal review of cases led the Board of Immigration Appeals to grant reprieves from deportation because these families had not, in fact, exhausted their legal options.
  • ICE had granted many of the detained women permission to remain in the United States. These women had complied with orders of supervision by ICE, which permit them to remain in the United States subject to certain conditions, including regular check-in appointments with ICE or wearing electronic ankle shackles that allow ICE to track their location. Some women even had upcoming ICE appointments when they were swept up in the raids.
  • ICE focused these raids in jurisdictions with weak due process protections.Individuals appearing before Atlanta immigration courts have one of the lowest rates of legal representation of any large city in the country. Judges in Atlanta’s immigration courts have among the highest asylum denial rates in the nation. Women and children with valid immigration claims in these jurisdictions are particularly unlikely to have full access to justice.
  • ICE has refused to release children and their mothers from immigration detention – a violation of a national settlement. As of this writing, the government has now held immigrant children in detention centers for more than 20 days, which is prohibited under a settlement agreement in Flores v. Johnson. Children in DHS custody have the right to be released to a parent, including their accompanying parent, regardless of the parent’s immigration status. DHS must release children with their mothers unless the mother poses a significant flight risk or public safety threat.

While the focus of this report is Atlanta, this investigation revealed that these issues are not confined to this area. Victims of raids from Virginia and Texas reported questionable tactics that were remarkably similar. Quite simply, Atlanta is not an aberration. This disturbing pattern of raids that have traumatized communities and potentially violated constitutional protections is ample evidence to halt future raids by ICE, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.

With the raids halted, Congress should investigate not only the apparent constitutional violations committed by ICE agents during these raids but misconduct in other aspects of immigration enforcement as well. The federal government must adopt a practical, comprehensive response to the Central American refugee crisis and improve access to counsel for immigrants. It must offer alternatives to punitive detention practices and shutter the family detention centers holding these immigrants. We must uphold our constitutional values as we address this humanitarian crisis. It is time to ensure that immigrant families no longer live in fear.

Detailed recommendations are contained at the end of this report.