US Election 2016

Hillary Clinton calls for end to 'divisive' deportation raids

An officer with ICE written on his back Image copyright Getty Images

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for an end to deportation raids targeting Central American families living in the US illegally.

A spike in raids in recent weeks, largely aimed at women and children, has drawn the ire of rights groups.

Mrs Clinton said the raids "have sown fear and division in immigrant communities across the country".

Immigration has been one of the leading issues in the 2016 race.

Democratic President Barack Obama has been assailed by both political parties on this issue.

More than two million undocumented migrants have been deported from the US during his presidency, prompting accusations of being "deporter-in-chief" from within his own party.

But his Republican critics attack his administration for not doing enough to secure the borders.

They are also deeply opposed to his plan to lift the threat of deportation to 11 million people who have been living illegally in the US for some time.

Thousands have come over the border with Mexico in the last two years, mostly fleeing violence in Central America.

The raids spiked over the holiday season, with 121 adults and children arrested, mainly in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.

Scores of House Democrats on Tuesday echoed Mrs Clinton and demanded the raids stop.

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Why are the raids happening?

They come as fears grow that a spike in immigration from Central America may be foreshadowing a repeat of the 2014 crisis that saw tens of thousands of migrants - especially unaccompanied children - cross the border.

The White House has defended the raids, with spokesman Josh Earnest saying the president was aware of the outrage but that "the enforcement strategy and priorities that the administration has articulated are not going to change".

The Obama administration has unilaterally enacted immigration reform to protect undocumented immigrants who have been in the country a long time, but has said deportations would continue. In February, Mr Obama said that the forced removals would be "focusing on potential felons".

"I think the administration sees is as important to complete some of these removal orders to discourage future irregular immigration from Central America," Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute told the BBC.

"It's difficult to grant relief to deserving cases if you're not also going to deport cases found not to be deserving."

Image caption The summer of 2014 saw a spike in migration across the Rio Grande, which separates the US and Mexico in some places by a stone's throw

What has the reaction been?

The raids have riled lawmakers and activists, who say they are disruptive and ill-timed, and were breaking families apart as well as spreading fear across immigrant communities.

Rep Nydia Vlazquez, a member of the Hispanic caucus, said that "immigrants and their families are terrorised".

"These are some of the most vulnerable members of society and we are treating them like criminals."

The anger prompted White House officials to meet with politicians on Thursday in an attempt to dampen the anger.

That failed to stop 135 Democrats from co-signing a letter asking that the raids stop immediately.

"We strongly condemn the Department of Homeland Security's recent enforcement operation targeting refugee mothers and children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala," the letter reads.

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Image caption A man comforts a woman after immigration authorities detain them

How has immigration played in the 2016 campaign?

Leading Republican candidate Donald Trump prompted a weeks-long outrage over the summer when he described Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and "criminals" and called for a wall to be built on the southern border.

Meanwhile, one of his rivals, Marco Rubio, is framing the issue as one of national security, saying that radical jihadist groups could exploit the immigration system.

Mr Rubio's support for immigration reforms in the past could be a liability for the candidate during primary elections, as he attempts to climb to the top of the crowded and mainly conservative Republican pack.

Democrats have taken a different approach to the issue, urging a humanitarian response.

Senator Bernie Sanders, currently in second place, wrote a letter to President Obama earlier this month saying: "I urge you to immediately cease these raids and not deport families back to countries where a death sentence awaits."

Martin O'Malley, who is in a distant third place, has attacked his two rivals saying that their support for immigrants was recent and politically expedient.

Image copyright Getty Images