“My father was deported three years ago,” Andres told ThinkProgress, as he obediently followed orders by an adult chaperone to back up against the White House fence. He was in Washington, D.C. this week to call on President Obama to keep his promise to “do everything he can” to fix the immigration system that has separated families. Andres was helping to hold up part of a banner with pictures of children whose parents had been deported. “I’m going into the fifth grade. I feel bad because every year [in the past] I [went] to school, he [gave] me the effort to go every day.”
Andres, an American citizen, was part of a group of 30 children from Florida, each with at least one parent who have gone through the deportation process or have been deported. The group showed up at the White House to protest their separation from their families and to recount how their parents’ deportations had affected them. The protest came two days after administration officials said that the President would delay executive action on immigration.
Andres’ parents had come to the United States in the mid-1990s from Guatemala in pursuit of economic opportunities. They settled in Florida where they raised five children; Andres is the only son. Both Andres and his elder sister Elena, 14, spoke at the protest about how their father’s deportation three years ago had scarred and matured them. Elena said that she had to become a surrogate parent to both Andres and their three other siblings.
Before his deportation in 2011, Andres’ father, an undocumented immigrant, was a concrete worker. When he was pulled over for driving with expired license tags, it triggered a process that ultimately led to his deportation when his wife Lucia was one month pregnant. He was caught trying to illegally reenter the country to see his newborn, a felony charge that has become the most common charge brought by federal prosecutors against undocumented immigrants since at least 2011. Andre said that his mother, also undocumented, has taken on a job to take care of neighborhood children ever since. She makes about $80 a week. The family now receives financial help from a woman in Florida who put herself in charge of taking care of children whose parents have been deported.
Andres said that he misses his father every day and that his grades have suffered. “He used to help me with my homework and to understand the lesson and my homework,” Andres said, slightly rocking as the people next to him chanted, “Obama escucha estamos en la lucha” (or, “Obama, listen: we are in the struggle”) at the protest. “Right now I don’t have his help so my grades are going down. I want my father back.”
Since President Obama delayed an executive action that could potentially provide temporary deportation reprieve, advocates have promised to make their voices heard to lawmakers who, they believe, are continuing to tear apart the immigrant communities. Other children between the ages of eight and 14 told their tales at the press conference organized by the advocacy group We Belong Together, many breaking down crying before they finished speaking. Adult chaperones were on hand to hug them. It’s unclear whether Obama’s executive action, which is expected to replicate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a program that granted temporary deportation reprieve and work authorization to some undocumented immigrants, could extend to people like Andres’ father who were already been deported. But Andres said that he told his story more to inspire the White House administration to prevent the deportation of other parents who likely have long standing ties to the United States. The Obama administration circulated a memo in 2011 advising federal immigration law enforcement officials to prioritize criminal immigrants for deportation proceedings. Yet, in the months that followed, the government has deported numerous low-priority undocumented parents. Between 2010 to 2012, a record-breaking 205,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also released a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging him to issue deferred action for immigrants, specifically those who have lived in the country for ten years or longer, parents of U.S. citizens, parents of DACA recipients, and others who have approved family and employment petitions.
White House officials insist that the decision to delay an executive action was meant to effectuate “sustainable and more effective” policy. But advocates, like Andres, plan to continue putting a human face on the issue and to continue pressuring politicians to mobilize on an executive action that is inclusive of many categories of undocumented immigrants. At the same time, activists are threatening to sit out the November election after accusing some politicians like Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), a potentially vulnerable Democrat candidate in a conservative state, for urging the President to delay action. Activists also rallied at Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-CO) office this week, angry that Bennet’s role as the chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee could “[place] him in a situation that pulls him in two directions on immigration,” according to the Denver Post. Bennet’s office has stated that “the senator did not urge the president to delay executive action,” Colorado Public Radio reported. Other organizers from the immigration group United We Dream were arrested when they refused to leave Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) Washington, D.C. office Tuesday afternoon.