U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials plan to execute raids in May and June to deport Central American mothers and children who immigrated to the U.S. illegally and have exhausted all legal recourse.
The month-long series of raids are focused on hundreds of mothers and children who have already been notified they must leave the United States.
The operation would also cover undocumented minors who entered the country without a guardian and have since turned 18 years old.
In a statement, ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said “the Department of Homeland Security must enforce the law consistent with our enforcement priorities.”
“Current operations are a continuation of operations (Homeland Security) Secretary (Jeh) Johnson announced in January and March,” she added.
The official said immigrants who arrived illegally after Jan. 1, 2014 are priorities for removal.
“This includes single adults, as well as adults who bring their children with them,” the statement said.
Surge of raids
The Obama administration began a surge of raids to deport illegal immigrants in January focused on Central American immigrants who stayed beyond their deportation orders.
Immigration authorities arrested 121 people. They were the first raids since May 2014.
Johnson said the detainees were taken into custody in the states of Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.
Those arrested had "exhausted all appropriate legal remedies,” Johnson said back in January.
Analysts linked the surge to sharp rises in gang-related violence in Central America, as well as to efforts by people seeking to reunite with family members already in the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson addresses an audience during a forum at John F. Kennedy School of Government on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 21, 2016.
But in March, Johnson told a U.S. senate panel that January raids helped decrease the number of Central Americans trying to migrating illegally.
The U.S. Border Patrol reported fewer illegal entries between January and March.
In the first six months of the new fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, Border Patrol apprehended 27,754 unaccompanied minors from Central America.
The Wall Street Journal, however, reported this number is almost double of last year’s total of 15,616 and it is just below the record in 2014 of 28,579 during that same period.
Condemning the actions are presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
In April, Sanders issued a statement urging the president to halt raids against those who have fled violence in Central America.
“America has always been a beacon of liberty for those fleeing violence and persecution. Raids separating families are not who we are. Deportation can be a death sentence to detained minors, parents and asylum seekers,” Sanders said in a statement.
U.S. Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton, left, and Donald Trump
Clinton, Trump on immigration
At a forum last month aimed at young and minority voters in Iowa, Clinton said she was against the raids.
"I do not think the raids are an appropriate tool to enforce the immigration laws. In fact, I think they are divisive, they are sowing discord and fear," Clinton said.
But over the presence of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, Republicans have regularly criticized the Obama administration.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump approved the January raids and took partial credit for them, claiming he put pressure on the administration.
Trump accused Mexico of allowing "criminals and rapists" to illegally enter the United States. He has vowed to build an impenetrable wall along the border if elected and has called for Mexico to pay for it.
FILE - An Immigration activist, protesting deportations of people who are in the country illegally, blocks the front gate of a building that houses federal immigration authorities in Atlanta.
Advocates: raids are not the answer
Meanwhile, immigrant advocates said raids are not the answer.
Organizations like The American Civil Liberties Union also condemned the January deportations, which were first publicized in late December. An ACLU statement accused federal officials of targeting families, and using the detentions as a "scare tactic to deter other families fleeing violence in Central America from coming to the United States."
“These actions are not the way to respond to a bona fide refugee situation like the one we are experiencing with children and families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America,” Philip Wolgin, managing director for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, told the Wall Street Journal.