Immigrant advocates have expressed their concern over Trump administration plans to arrest parents and other relatives who authorities believe smuggled their children into the United States.
The advocates revealed that the move would send a wave of fear through vulnerable communities.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed on Thursday that the new surge initiative aims to dismantle human smuggling operations, including identifying and arresting the adult sponsors of unaccompanied minors who paid coyotes or other smugglers to bring young people across the U.S. border.
The bold move is unlike what the U.S. experienced during Obama’s tenure, tens of thousands of children were seen fleeing gang and drug violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador crossed the border and were placed with sponsors in communities nationwide.
Wendy Young, president of Kids In Need of Defense said that arresting those who come forward to sponsor unaccompanied children during their immigration proceedings, often parents are unimaginably cruel.
ICE officials did not respond to questions Thursday seeking details on the number of sponsors who would be targeted or already had been arrested, or what charges would be applied. Immigrant advocacy groups said they were investigating three arrests in Texas, New Jersey, and Virginia that may involve sponsors.
ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez revealed that the children whose sponsors were arrested would be placed with another verified relative or guardian, or under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Approximately 170,000 unaccompanied minors have been placed with sponsors in all 50 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands since October 2013. The federal data shows that many are still awaiting their day in court.
President Donald Trump has made immigration enforcement a top priority and has vowed to continue a crackdown on those living in the U.S. illegally and sneak into the country. A former Obama administration Justice Department official, Leon Fresco, said Trump’s recent move likely would be challenged in court, given limits on a number of time children can be detained.