Wednesday morning, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, took to Twitter as he tried to intervene in the deportation of two Honduran asylum-seekers.
“I didn’t have hours to try to slow down a deportation, or even stop it,” said Casey, explaining his viral tweetstorm the next day. “I wanted to use the resource social media can be to get a message out very quickly.”
While ultimately unsuccessful, the senator said he is continuing to question Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about the department’s handling of this and other deportations of young Central American mothers and children.
“It seems like the focus [of the Department of Homeland Security] has been on, in this case, a 5-year-old and his mother, instead of using every ounce of their focus on folks who pose a real threat or real danger to the country,” he said.
The woman and her 5-year-old son had been held in U.S. immigrant family detention in Texas and Berks County, Pennsylvania, since December 2015, according to lawyer Jackie Kline.
Pending a decision on their claims that the boy would be harmed if he returned to Honduras, U.S. immigration officials removed the family from the Berks Family Residential Center early Wednesday morning.
Kline and her law partners had started the 5-year-old’s petition for “special immigrant juvenile status,” a kind of immigration reprieve for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by at least one parent. It does not extend immigration benefits to custodial parents.
“The family of her ex-partner had threatened to harm, to kill them, had even attempted to do so,” said Kline about the basis for that claim. In addition to that familial violence, “she was being targeted by a gang member who wanted her to be his girlfriend, and his organization then murdered her cousin in front of her and threatened to kill her.”
As compelling as that account is, the claim was still in its early stages. On Wednesday, lawyers were set to argue about whether the woman and child are covered by a recent stay on deportations from the center for four other children with special immigrant juvenile status.
Using his Twitter-pulpit, Casey called on White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the Department of Homeland Security, and President Donald Trump to halt or reverse the deportation.
“Shame on @realDonaldTrump @Reince45 @DHSgov@ICEgov for turning their back on this child and his mother. They should be better than this,” he tweeted later in the evening, when it was clear the intervention failed.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials responded with a statement that the removal was justified.
“It’s unfortunate that politicians are repeating misleading information and in the process, demonizing the men and women whose job it is to enforce the laws Congress writes,” said an ICE spokesman who wished not to be identified.
Advocates arranged to have a nonprofit representative meet the woman and her son when their plane landed, and to provide them with a temporary safehouse. The two are among more than a dozen families detained at the Berks Family Residential Center who lost a petition to have their cases heard before the U.S. Supreme Court last month, tossing them into legal limbo.
Correction: The name of the woman ICE deported was removed to protect her from facing retribution for talking about gang violence in Honduras.