WASHINGTON (AFP) - Democratic lawmakers criticised President Barack Obama on Tuesday (Jan 12) over a wave of arrests of Central American undocumented migrants as part of the administration's stepped-up deportation efforts.
The US authorities announced last week they had arrested 121 adults and children, mainly in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.
These families started arriving in May 2014 and had been served with expulsion orders.
Mrs Hillary Clinton also spoke out in opposition to the raids, disassociating herself from Obama policy as she seeks the White House in 2016.
"Our immigration enforcement efforts should be humane and conducted in accordance with due process, and that is why I believe we must stop the raids happening in immigrant communities," the former secretary of state and Democratic front runner said on Monday.
"We have laws and we must be guided by those laws, but we shouldn't have armed federal officers showing up at people's homes, taking women and children out of their beds in the middle of the night," Mrs Clinton said in a statement that was unusually critical of the President.
In Congress, where Mr Obama was to deliver his State of the Union address on Wednesday morning (Singapore time), 135 Democrats including members of party leadership signed a letter calling for raids targeting immigrants to 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.
Those are the home countries of many undocumented immigrants who have arrived in recent years by crossing the Mexican border.
In 2014, the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors, many sent north by relatives in a bid to escape brutal violence, triggered a political crisis in the US.
Republicans accused the White House of being lax on border security, and ruled out any attempt to legalise the status of the 11 million people living in the United States without proper residency papers.
The Democratic lawmakers contrasted the reception given to refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East with the policy of "deterrence" they said the Obama administration was carrying out to counter arrivals of Central Americans.
Several of the immigrants fleeing violence have sought refugee protection in the US, the Democrats pointed out.
"We are gravely concerned that DHS may have already removed mothers and children from the US and returned them to violent and dangerous situations in their home countries," they said.
The White House defended its policy of promoting legalisation of those who had been here the longest, mainly those who came to the US as children.
However, it asked security forces to concentrate on expelling undocumented immigrants with criminal records or those who arrived recently.
"And it was only after individuals had exhausted the legal remedies available to them to claim asylum or to be granted some other form of humanitarian relief - only then - you know, was a decision made to remove them," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.