Homeland Security Reverses Controversial Deportations

June 17, 2009

SAN DIEGO – Civil rights and human rights activists commended a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to readmit to the United States minors apprehended and deported to Mexico in a controversial immigration raid at the Old Town trolley station last month. The three students were on their way to school at the time of the detention and deportation on May 20, 2009.

The decision by DHS to grant “humanitarian parole” to the three high school students is believed to be nearly unprecedented. The students were apprehended in a joint operation by the U.S. Border Patrol, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit System (MTS). Their parole followed advocacy efforts led by the American Friends Service Committee and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

At the Old Town Trolley Station in the heart of San Diego, agents of the Border Patrol questioned a 16-year-old girl and two boys, ages 15 and 17, about their residency status before taking them into custody and sending them to Mexico later that day.

“All children have the right to attend public school,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU. “The government should not be snatching children on their way to school.” Blair-Loy expressed concern about the underpinnings of the raids, part of the Visual Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, a federal security screening program of the DHS conducted by TSA teams at mass transit hubs. “We need reassurance from DHS that innocent travelers won’t be targets of these VIPR operations in the future.”

“We are pleased that the Department of Homeland Security did the right thing by correcting this egregious error,” said Kevin Keenan, executive director of the San Diego ACLU. “Regardless of one’s views on the immigration debate, most reasonable people can agree that deporting children on their way to school is not the solution. We call on Border Patrol to develop a policy agreeing not to target, detain and deport children on their way to school.”

Keenan credits the joint efforts of the religious, education and legal communities in San Diego with the department’s decision to return the students to their families. “A number of individuals and organizations spoke with countless federal and local officials,” Keenan said. “Our community said, ‘No. You won’t deport our community’s kids on their way to school.'”

Keenan expressed ongoing interest in the extent of MTS involvement in joint operations with Borer Patrol and the resulting detention and deportation of minors, and noted that the ACLU will be following up with MTS to learn more.


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