Obama Doubles Down On Immigration Commitment, But These Families Say It Won’t Come Soon Enough

Young activists Abraham (center) and Brandon (right) Jimenez CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee
Young activists Abraham (center) and Brandon (right) Jimenez CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Perhaps acknowledging the presence of protesters outside last week’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Gala, President Barack Obama nearly immediately launched into an impassioned speech re-committing to take executive action on immigration between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Outside the event, dispirited immigration advocates loudly voiced their disappointment with a president that they say has placed “personal politics over the interests of our country” and has been “deporting more people than at any other point in history,” according to a CASA de Maryland press release. Other protesters were there to vent their frustrations over Obama, who they feel should be held accountable for his pledge to provide immigration relief “within the legal constraints” of the executive office.

Removed from the madding crowd outside, Obama began and ended his speech by commenting that he had already moved as much on immigration as he could for DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, even stating that he rode over from the White House with two such individuals. “The actions that we’ve taken so far…are why more than 600,000 young people can live and work without fear of deportation,” Obama said, amid a brief interruption by a protester who wanted him to act on immigration relief. That action, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has already granted temporary work authorization and deportation reprieve to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants. He said in his speech, “That’s because of the actions I took and the administration took.”

He also blamed partisan politics for the current broken immigration system. “If House Republicans brought the Senate bill up for a vote today, it would pass today; I would sign it today,” the president said. “And they know it. But instead, they’ve been sitting on it for more than a year. They voted to strip DREAMers of new protections and make them eligible for deportation — not once, but twice they voted that way.”

But outside the event, immigration advocates were furious. Protesters told ThinkProgress that while they believed that Republicans likely wouldn’t move on comprehensive immigration reform, Obama could nevertheless take swift and immediate steps to stop deportations on his own. Administration officials said last month that the President would delay executive action on immigration to effectuate “sustainable and more effective” policy that would outlast Obama’s presidency, a move that the New York Times reported was in part because administration was “bowing to pressure from fellow Democrats who feared that acting now could doom his party’s chances this fall.” Advocates have said that the delay could have dire consequences on individual immigrants, some of whom are in deportation proceedings or could be deported to countries that would persecute them. There were about 70 protesters outside the gala with more arriving throughout the night.

Nationwide, immigration advocates have been unrelenting in making the President aware of the human cost of his decision to delay executive action, even launching a campaign to collect stories, photos, videos, graphics, and other artifacts to use in a “Deporter-in-Chief” exhibit that they are petitioning to add to the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. Within the past month, undocumented immigrant mothers were arrested for staging sit-ins outside the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, while children of deported parents protested outside the White House as a way to put a human face on deportations. Pew Research polling also found last year that “while 89 percent of Hispanics in 2013 said they support a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants who meet certain requirements, a majority (55 percent) said deportation relief is more important than a pathway to citizenship for this population.” And just the previous day, about two dozen advocates protested outside Northwestern University, calling the president the “deporter in chief,” a statistic backed up by recent Pew Research data indicating that the U.S. made 438,421 deportations in 2013: a “record high.” However, the Associated Press found that this year, the government is “on pace to remove the fewest number of immigrants since 2007,” which if immigration officials stayed on pace through the end of the 2014 fiscal year, would mean that deportations are down 15 percent from the previous year.

In particular, the Jimenez brothers had come to the protest from Pennsylvania with signs and small guitars to call on Obama to stop the deportation of their father Victor Ibarra Jimenez, who they haven’t seen in five months. Wearing matching green shirts reading, “Si se puede,” Abraham (age eight) and Brandon (age seven) Jimenez played a short tune with their guitars, while their mother stood nearby holding a stack of flyers with the words “Not1More” in bold letters at the top.

The mother, Maritza Guzman, told ThinkProgress through a translator that her husband had been driving in the morning on an icy patch of road in March when he hit the car next to him. Police who pulled him over at the scene found out that he did not have a driver’s license and later sent home an order to appear in court. She said that when Jimenez showed up to court to pay for the ticket, he was also fingerprinted — an action that led immigration officials to soon detain him afterwards and put him in York County Detention Center. The family hasn’t seen him since May.

I’m tired that Obama … is treating the immigrant community as less than.

Since her husband’s detainment, Maritza has taken on two jobs — in the mornings, she works in a sewing factory; at night, she clean offices. “When they get out of school, there’s nobody there with them,” Maritza said, pointing at her children. “They have struggled in school as a result of the nervousness [the detention] has caused… When their dad was around, he would help them with homework. But now they’re alone a lot since I’m working [when] they get out of school.”

“I’m tired that Obama has not taken action and that he is treating the immigrant community as less than. He needs to know that we are equal,” Maritza added. “I want to see immigration reform for the millions of families who have been separated.”

Activist Ivania Castillo CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee
Activist Ivania Castillo CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Ivania Castillo, a U.S. citizen, is also mad at the President because he “promised the Spanish community that he was going to pass executive order for 11 million immigrants. We’re waiting and waiting and he hasn’t made a decision.” She came to protest in part because deportations have hit close to home — her daughter-in-law is undocumented and three members of her family members have either received final deportation orders or have already been deported. “It’s very painful to see that she’s afraid to go to work,” Ivania said. She vented her frustration that there is an average of 1,100 deportations a day. She fears that her daughter-in-law could be next. “She’s afraid to go anywhere because every day, you don’t know where they’re going to stop her or when they’re going to deport her.”

Ivania said that despite having campaigned for the Obama campaign, she has reservations about the President moving forward. “I’m a U.S. citizen and he is sending the message to me that he doesn’t care about our community,” she said. “How does he expect us to vote for Democrats when he’s not doing his job helping the Spanish people?”

But Ivania like many other Latino voters, wants the President to follow through with his pledge to fix the immigration system. As much as she is frustrated with the President, she said that she would still vote for the Democratic party in the midterm election because she believes that immigration reform could only pass under their leadership since the alternative is “racist.”

“To be honest, I will vote for Democrats,” Ivania said. “They are the only ones who have given us hope. Immigration reform did not pass and Republicans are always racist to the Spanish community so we don’t have a choice but to pressure Obama and to make sure that he’s going to pass the executive order.”

CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee
CREDIT: Esther Y. Lee

Ivania’s sentiments are felt by some advocacy groups channeling that frustration to build up the Latino voter base through registration drives. Going so far as to ramp up registration efforts in places like casinos, about 100 partners in the get-out-the-vote movement have already registered more than 38,000 people online, Politico reported. According to NBC News, “there are 4.4 million more Latinos eligible to vote than in 2010” while another 800,000 Latinos who are citizens turn 18 every year. Advocacy groups are increasingly disappointed by Obama’s delay to act on executive action, but many, like those at the protest, are hoping to use these voter registration drives to remind politicians that Latino engagement could help tip the 2016 primary elections, as it had in the 2012 election.

“I think we need to vote — this is a very important decision and he needs to know the power of the Hispanic vote,” Ivania said.