The “Deporter-in-Chief” label isn’t a badge that President Barack Obama wants to carry, but it’s a legacy that some immigration activists believe is most befitting. By the projections of most deportation watchers, the Obama administration will have authorized two million deportations by Saturday, April 5. That’s roughly 1,100 deportations every day since 2009, as if the combined populations of Boston, Seattle, Miami, and St. Louis just disappeared. With 34 months left in Obama’s term and no concrete plans for a long-term immigration reform solution in sight, activists are anxious that more of their loved ones — or even they, themselves — may be next on the deportation list. That’s why they have turned up the heat and negative media coverage on an administration they’ve long counted on as part of the solution, hoping that now would be the time that Obama will stop or at least slow the number of deportations that have torn families apart.
Prompted by months-long House Republican refusal to move reform to a floor vote, activists have keenly turned up pressure on Obama to expand his presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which establishes temporary legal presence and a two-year deportation reprieve, to all immigrants who have not committed serious offenses and are not national security risks. Obama has insisted time and again that he is unable to unilaterally stop all deportations, but just last month, he emphasized that his administration would find a way to approach deportations “humanely.”
This isn’t the first time that the Obama administration has taken inventory of its deportation practices. Three months before his administration hit the milestone of having deported one million immigrants by September 2011, the so-called “Morton Memo” called on federal immigration agents to not enforce immigration laws against certain individuals. That was followed up later in the year by an indefinite stop to the deportation of some 300,000 immigrants who didn’t pose national security risks, a step that some Republicans alluded to as “backdoor amnesty.”
Since that time, Obama has issued a series of memos that instruct immigration officials to avert deporting those individuals who have not committed serious offenses, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, and undocumented family members of military personnel. But those officials retain what is known as “prosecutorial discretion” to make individual calls about whether or not to pursue deportation. Activists argue that the discretion is subjective, incomplete, and could still leave millions of immigrants vulnerable to deportation, while critics cited the DACA program as an example of executive overreach when they took the time to vote through two anti-Obama bills out of a House committee. However both sides characterize Obama’s policies, the deportation of all kinds of immigrants still happens. Here are just three stories of lives forever changed by stringent immigration enforcement:
“He was just driving to work.” In 2005, Ardani Rosales, 27, and his family escaped to the United States from Guatemala in 2005 after gangs threatened him for guiding youths away from the gangster lifestyle. He sought asylum, but was denied. Without papers, he was processed and deported. When he got back to Guatemala, Rosales was beaten up. He snuck back into the United States where he lived under the radar in Arizona until 2012 when he was pulled over for a minor traffic violation.
His wife, Naira Zapata, is hoping that she can convince the President to release her husband from detention so that the family can finally reunite in the United States. She will also be present for the indefinite vigil outside the White House to ask the President to stop the immediate deportation of her husband as well as other immigrants who have not committed serious crimes.
“He was just driving to work. The police said that he had a light [on his car] that wasn’t working,” his wife Naira Zapata said through a translator to ThinkProgress on Thursday. “The police said that they were going to take him away because he has an arrest warrant [from being repatriated to Guatemala in 2005] … They took him in and transferred him to ICE.”
ICE deported Rosales in December 2012 when Zapata was two months pregnant with their second child. “He was deported as we were protesting in front of ICE,” Zapata said during a press conference in March. “They took him through the back door so that we wouldn’t see. We had no idea what was going on. We didn’t find out until he called from Guatemala.”
His family alleged that he had been “secretly removed from the detention center where he was held using multiple decoy vehicles at the same time as his family and supporters held a vigil in front” which “[cut] short [his] appeals processes.”
This past Tuesday, Rosales reunited with his three-year-old U.S. citizen son on the Mexican side of the border for the first time in a year and a half. He still has not met his daughter, but said in Spanish to the Associated Press, “I promise that I will fight to the end to be with them. What I have asked God every day is to be with them again.” Hours later and one day after Jaime Valdez, Rosales presented himself at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry to request asylum back into the United States. Border patrol officials took him into the detention center where he is still waiting for an answer.
“I feel nervous, but I feel sure that they’ll give him a chance again,” Zapata said as she rocked her eight month old baby back and forth. “Congress has the power to help us, but Obama hasn’t done anything. He’s only made promises, but hasn’t acted.”
Victims of America’s Worst Sheriff. Starting this weekend, Jose Valdez will hold an indefinite vigil for his son, Jaime Valdez, 31, less than 100 yards from the White House. Valdez is hoping that his action will make the President and Congressional members understand his family’s plight after his three sons were separately deported from Arizona’s Maricopa County, notorious for Sheriff Joe Arpaio who enforces anti-immigration legislation, sometimes without legal justification. His eldest son was killed upon returning to Mexico, while his youngest son has been unable to come back and consoles his mother through handwritten letters. Jose Valdez hopes that the middle child, Jaime, will not face the same fate.
Jose Valdez said in a press statement released Thursday, “If the President wants to address deportations, he should speak directly with those of us who are suffering because of his policies.”
Jaime Valdez, who has spent 16 years in the United States, was arrested for a DUI and detained for four months in Arizona. “Lawyers promised to get him out, but the police transferred him to ICE,” Jose Valdez said during a press conference Thursday. “Since then, lawyer after lawyer told me that they couldn’t get him out because he was undocumented. … We did a hunger strike where we spent time outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. On my ninth day of the hunger strike, police took reprisals against us. They took away our encampments and they deported my son. I finished the hunger strike even though my son had been deported.”
“They took away my child,” Jose Valdez explained to ThinkProgress about his rationale for holding an indefinite vigil. “President Obama has to know that [ICE] takes away our children.”
On Tuesday, Jaime Valdez attempted to reenter the United States to request humanitarian parole at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry where he is still currently being detained. He is afraid that he will face the same fate as his older brother if he returns to Mexico. Jaime Valdez said that he was put in solitary confinement after his family went on a two-week hunger strike outside the Phoenix detention his detention.
“They accused me of inciting people to stop eating, Jaime Valdez said in a video shot in Mexico released in March. “They said that I was the cause of people striking inside detention. So they put me in solitary confinement. That was Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, I was in Nogales [Mexico].”
He may miss his son’s next birthday. Fidel Padilla, 52, was leaving his trailer park community in an Oklahoma City suburb one morning when a police siren went off behind him. Because of language barriers and because he was terrified, he didn’t ask the police why he had been pulled over. After the police officer ticketed him for driving without a license, Padilla was put in jail and later in an immigration detention center for thirteen days. Due to poor legal advice and an extended family member who didn’t give him his “order of removal” notice for a late February 2014 departure, Padilla still has not left the country. When he spoke with ThinkProgress Thursday, Padilla was getting ready for his youngest son’s birthday. He said that he was “frightened and fearful” that ICE could show up at any moment and was unsure whether he would be able to celebrate another milestone with his family.
According to his lawyer Giovanni Perry who spoke with ThinkProgress on Thursday, she has filed for an “order of supervision,” a renewable request that would allow him to stay in the country with the promise of checking in with the judge on a timetable. That request would essentially “ask ICE not to execute the order of removal.”
Perry added that Padilla is a “family man” whose children goes to the same school as her children. “It adds a personal touch to the case where I feel like I have a stake in the outcome. He cares about his children continuing their education … Why is it fair that my children can go through everything so smoothly but his children have to go through this so unfairly?”