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By Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The nation’s highest immigration court has delayed the deportations of four families out of hundreds of Central American migrant adults and children rounded up in raids over the New Year’s weekend as part of a nationwide effort to combat illegal immigration, according to the families’ lawyers. They expected to win a fifth stay Wednesday.

The Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision, made late Tuesday, is a small yet potentially significant breakthrough for lawyers fighting the raids, as it raises questions about Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s assurances to the public earlier this week that those being deported had exhausted all their legal options.

The families’ lawyers said the stays of deportation had been granted to allow time to appeal their cases to the Board of Immigration Appeals — a step none of them had yet taken. The families had been scheduled to be deported from the United States on Wednesday morning back to their home countries of El Salvador and Honduras.

“What does it mean when we get five out of six cases stayed? That means something is wrong here,” said one of the lawyers, Laura Lichter, general counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “If there was no case, nothing here, we wouldn’t have gotten the stay.”

Johnson said this week that 121 people had been taken into custody, mainly in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. The Obama administration operation focused on adults and their children who’d been apprehended as of last spring after crossing the southern border illegally, had been issued orders of removal by an immigration court and, Johnson said, “have exhausted appropriate legal remedies.”

“As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values,” Johnson said in a statement Monday.

The holiday raids were the first in a large-scale effort focused on Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence, and they drew swift criticism from activists. Lawyers advised the migrants to simply not open the door if approached by immigration agents.

Lichter and other lawyers, organized through the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, charged the Obama administration with rushing to deport the families without properly screening whether they had exhausted their due process rights. The attorneys filed requests to stop the deportations for five out of a half-dozen cases they’d reviewed. The declarations to the Board of Immigration Appeals included the families’ affidavits explaining why they feared returning to their home countries.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest reminded critics of President Barack Obama’s November 2014 immigration priorities, which placed more emphasis on recent arrivals of individuals who’d crossed the border without proper legal documentation.

“This is consistent with the kinds of priorities that the president himself has talked about; that our enforcement efforts need to be focused on deporting felons, not families, and with a particular focus on individuals who have only recently crossed the border,” Earnest said.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson talks to the media about holiday travel at Union Station in Washington, November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas 

 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.