Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign says that the Democrat has “real concerns” about reports that the Obama administration is working on a large-scale plan to deport some illegal aliens who came to the U.S. in a massive wave from Central America last year. But that appears to be a flip-flop of sorts, given that the former secretary of state said last year that even some of the Central American children “should be sent back” to their home countries.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is working on a plan, which is slated to begin in January, to deport Central American families living in the U.S. who have been ordered removed by federal immigration judges.
More than 100,000 families with adults and children have come from Central America since the beginning of last year’s border surge. That’s in addition to tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who also came to the U.S., largely from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
While the inflow has been much lower for most of this year, the number of border-crossers has reportedly spiked in recent months.
According to The Post, the ICE operation, which reportedly has the support of Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson but has not yet been finalized, will target “hundreds” of Central Americans — a drop in the bucket compared to the total number that are believed to be in the U.S.
The report of the plan caused an immediate outcry from immigration rights activists. And all three Democratic presidential candidates criticized it, including Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton has real concerns about these reports, especially as families are coming together during this holiday season,” the Clinton campaign said in a statement. “She believes it is critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing, and that our country provides refuge to those that need it. And we should be guided by a spirit of humanity and generosity as we approach these issues.”
While the statement is vague, it indicates that Clinton now has qualms with deporting Central Americans who came to the U.S. in the surge.
During an interview with CNN in June 2014 Clinton said that she believed that Central American children “should be sent back” to their countries if immigration courts determine that they should be deported.
“It may be safer [for them to stay], but that’s not the answer,” added Clinton, who had not announced her presidential candidacy at the time.
“We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay,” she continued. “So, we don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”
Many Democrats and immigration activists have argued that the Central American immigrants — especially the children — are fleeing extreme violence and poverty and should be treated like asylum-seekers and allowed to stay in the U.S.
Clinton again supported deportation when she said during a press conference in August that removing the Central American children would “send a message” to others in those countries to not continue sending people to the U.S.
“Because the emergency is over, we need to be moving to try to get people out of these detention centers, particularly the women and children,” Clinton said. “I think we need more resources to process them, to listen to their stories, to find out if they have family in this country, if they have a legitimate reason for staying. So I would be putting a lot of resources into doing that, but my position has been and remains the same.”
A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is running against Clinton on the Democratic ticket, referred to Clinton’s past support for deportation. “Pretty tough to walk these back,” O’Malley’s deputy campaign manager, Lis Smith, wrote in a tweet with links to articles detailing Clinton’s remarks.
— Lis Smith (@Lis_Smith) December 24, 2015