City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—a prominent surrogate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—slammed the Obama Administration’s plan to pursue mass deportations of mothers and children from Central America who entered the country illegally.
Ms. Mark-Viverito, a native of Puerto Rico who has built a broader profile in part by focusing on immigration reform issues nationwide and in the city, said the policy would target women and children who were fleeing “horrific violence” at home.
“A lot of these women who come here with their children actually present themselves at the border. They’re not trying to enter illegally. They’re not trying to invade. They’re fleeing a situation and putting themselves at risk of rape; of violence,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said at a press conference in her East Harlem district today. “Those children could be killed. So it’s a very different situation and I think that there’s no distinction being made.”
The planned raids were first reported by Reuters, which said they would likely be the largest since sweeps in January that led to the detention of 121 people, mostly women and children. The proposed raids would target mothers and children who have already been told to leave the country, and minors who entered alone and have since turned 18, according to Reuters.
Both Ms. Clinton and her Democratic challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have said they oppose the administration’s deportation plans.
In New York, Ms. Mark-Viverito spearheaded programs that provide legal assistance to every unaccompanied minor who arrives in New York City—some of whom were previously ending up before judges without any attorneys.
“From what I’ve read, it is these women and their children and it is these unaccompanied children,” who will be targeted, Ms. Mark-Viverito said. “It’s just appalling. These are vulnerable individuals who have fled a horrific situation, have risked their lives to come here to seek asylum and refuge, and now are being treated in this way. Potentially putting them right back in harm’s way, in a situation where they may lose their life. I just can’t be complicit with that. I think we shouldn’t be complicit with that as a country.”
Ms. Mark-Viverito said she hopes that, if the deportations actually happen, New York will not have to be complicit in them—noting that in a previous raid, New York wasn’t targeted. She believed that was because of the city’s policies of helping undocumented immigrants.
“We are very welcoming of our immigrant communities. We’ve provided legal representations. We’ve allowed people to make their case in court. We know the vast majority come here to provide for their families and contribute positively to the economy of the city,” she said. “So we know that, and I think that all of those policies we’ve enacted combined kind of have buffered us from that.”
Ms. Mark-Viverito said she was gratified to hear Ms. Clinton talk about a need for legal representation for unaccompanied minors nationwide.
“It’s great to hear Secretary Clinton talking about doing that at a national scale. She is appalled, as many of us are, at this action that’s being taken,” she said. “We have to really revisit this position. I’m hoping the president will.