Nationwide rallies against “Two Million, Too Many” deportations
(See Alice Ollstein’s slideshow from Saturday’s rally in DC here or click on a thumbnail at the bottom of this post.)
Immigrant activists and their allies rallied in cities across the country this weekend, demanding President Barack Obama and Congress move quickly on comprehensive immigration reform and stop deportations that divide families. In Washington, D.C. activists took their message to the President’s doorstep, where they set up an indefinite protest encampment and say they intend to remain on a hunger strike until they achieve their goal. Alice Ollstein was at the White House protest Saturday and brings us this report.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Washington DC on Saturday to protest President Obama’s record of around two million deportations since he took office in 2009. Some played traditional Latin American instruments while others carried homemade signs reading “the time is now” and “not one more deportation” as they marched from the historic Latino neighborhood of Mount Pleasant to the White House. There the demonstrators heard from many people directly impacted by the current Administration’s immigration enforcement regime.
“We’re workers here. We’re here to support our families,” said local day labor worker Israel Romero, who migrated from El Salvador to escape violence and poverty. “I don’t know why people discriminate against us and don’t want us to be here. We didn’t come to take anybody’s jobs. We came here to survive. So I hope President Obama and Congress can open their hearts and realize that we need their support and we’re going to continue in this struggle until we get it.”
Romero and other members of the group “United Workers of Washington DC,” say relief from deportation would make them better able to report wage theft and stand up to abusive employers. Other rally participants, including Zenén Jaimes with the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, held signs and gave speeches calling attention to the struggles of the LGBT community, whose members often face violence in immigration detention and in their countries of origin.
“We want to make sure if you call yourself a friend of LGBT people, you have to be an ally to all LGBT people, including all the undocumented queer and trans people,” said Jaimes. “We’re asking the President to expand deferred action for all people, not just those who qualify as DREAMers but our parents, our family and everyone who falls outside of that right now.”
Protests calling for comprehensive immigration reform have intensified across the US over the past few months, with a series of detainee hunger strikes, coordinated border crossings, and the blockading of buses used to deport undocumented people. In March, President Obama announced a review of current immigration law, and said he would see if it can be enforced “more humanely.” But many activists say the only humane course is to suspend all deportations.
“The limits that are keeping the President from acting today are not legal limits, they’re political limits,” said Marisa Franco with the National Day Labor Organizing Network. Her organization recently filed a rule-making petition with the Department of Homeland Security arguing the President can legally grant “deferred action” to all those currently slated for removal. “We’re coming here to change the politics and we’re doing that by bringing the human suffering to his doorstep, to see if we can find our humanity in this issue of immigration that has grown to be so toxic.
Though President Obama has not said publicly that he is considering issuing an executive order to stem the tide of deportations, some members of Congress have expressed confidence he will do so. Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez told his Republican colleagues last week that the clock is ticking: “If you don’t act in the next 34 days, if you refuse to give the President a bill he can sign, because you say you don’t trust him to enforce immigration law even though he’s spent more money to deport people than any president before him, I believe he will act without you.”
Until then, activists will be leading an indefinite hunger strike and encampment in front of the White House, where those who have been separated from family members by deportations or who are currently fighting legal battles can tell their stories and put political pressure on the executive branch.