Sen. Bob Casey’s daylong campaign to keep a mother and child from being deported from the United States to face what the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania called “a potential death sentence” in Honduras ended in failure Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, Casey learned that a Honduran family living in a Philadelphia family detention center was set to be deported, his spokesperson Jacklin Rhoads told VICE News. After speaking with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and trying to contact top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement, Casey went public, tweeting, “Twitter: it’s urgent. I just found out that a young child & [his] mother who came to U.S. seeking refuge will be sent back to Honduras today.”
Over dozens of tweets and several hours, Casey outlined the situation. The mother had witnessed a murder while living in Honduras, and fled the country with her 5-year-old after facing threats from local gangs. She was then detained in Berks County Residential Center alongside several other families also seeking asylum — until this week, Rhoads said.
Honduras has the highest femicide rate in the world, ABC reported — one woman is murdered every 16 hours.
“The issue here is that the administration, ICE, and DHS have utilized resources to deport a five-year-old and his mother who posed absolutely no threat to the American people,” Rhoads said. “Why were this 5-year-old and his mother were targeted to be deported when there’s a number of other people, I think, who should be ahead of them in line?”
Casey has long fought against the practice of detaining immigrant families, and against the Berks center in particular — earlier this week, he sent a letter to Department of Homeland head John Kelly asking the agency to release four families who’d been detained there for nearly 600 days. Each of the families’ children, according to the letter, were in the process of applying for Special Immigration Juvenile Status, which allows certain children to live and work permanently in the United States
The child deported Wednesday was also eligible for that Special Immigration Juvenile Status, according to Politico, which Casey called the “worst part” of the whole saga. “According to lawyers [DHS] knew darn well that 5yr old & mother had secured paperwork to protect them & they rushed removal,” he tweeted.
By early afternoon, Casey learned that the family had been placed on a plane to Honduras, and that only White House intervention could now stop the deportation. By 6 p.m., he tweeted that the family was “gone.”
Casey also sent Trump a letter with a photo of the child, urging him to stop the deportation and writing, “We are better than this.” Still, it wasn’t until later Wednesday night that Casey received word on the mother and child’s location: “It’s very likely that they are on the ground in Honduras and that’s a potential death sentence,” he tweeted.
ICE confirmed to VICE News the woman had been deported and said in a statement that officials “have been in direct contact with Sen. Casey’s office about the case, providing information as it became available.” Casey also issued a statement condemning the current state of homeland security.
“I have had a long fight with two administrations about these families being detained at Berks but this is beyond that fight,” Casey said in a statement. “If the administration wants to have a debate on immigration, refugees, or those who seek asylum, fine — ready. But if we are going to begin a practice where the United State of America is calling ‘homeland security’ deporting kids, we have bigger problems that I thought. This is a charade that is being carried out while focus could be on keeping us safer.”