With chants of “Hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama!” and "Que queremos? Justicia! Cuando? Ahora!" a diverse group of immigration activists and leaders made their way from St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square to rally at the White House on Tuesday.
They were there to demand that the Obama administration stop deporting Central American asylum seekers and instead grant them Temporary Protected Status. With them they carried boxes full of more than 136,000 petition signatures calling for the same.
Each of the organizers took President Obama, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, and ICE Director Sarah Saldana to task over the raids in their own way.
Alma Couverthie, the Senior Director of Organizing at CASA de Maryland, sharply rebuked them for diminishing America’s reputation as “the land of the free and the home of the brave:”
“The brave don’t arrive in the dark of the night to steal the peace of mothers and children. The brave don’t give their backs to the most vulnerable. They show who they are and what they are made of by doing the right thing, by doing the humane thing.”
Quyen Dinh, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, told of her own family’s history as refugees and how America protected refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War:
“Over 40 years ago, our nation welcomed over 1.3 million refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the largest resettlement in U.S. history.
“40 years ago, American navymen picked up boats filled with children, women, and men, like my parents, who made the choice to risk their lives on the open waters of the South China Seas to seek freedom.
“40 years ago, this nation responded with the best of our values. And yet today, as a child of refugees, it is shameful to see our American legacy as a humanitarian leader destroyed by raids that criminalize victims of extreme violence, many of whom are children.”
Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director of Refugee and Immigration Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), explicitly called on the president to live up to his own Christian values:
“The way of raids is no way to care for God’s children. The raid’s way is no way to welcome the strangers among us. The raid’s way is no way to show compassion for those escaping horrific violence. The raid’s way is no way to help anyone heal from trauma. The raid’s way is no way.”
The organizers also highlighted the brutal and dehumanizing nature of how the raids are being conducted.
Nayely Pérez-Huerta, an organizer with the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, told the story of Wilden Acosta, a high-schooler who was taken from his family in North Carolina at 7 a.m. as he left for school. His mother is now afraid that if he is sent back to Honduras, he will be “an easy target” for gangs.
And Sandra, a young Central-American woman, told her own story of fleeing violence (including assassinations and kidnappings of her own family members) and crossing the border with her 4-year-old son:
“When I crossed the border with my son, I was detained by immigration. This was a horrible experience. We were treated worse than animals … I do not want my life or my son’s life to end up in a casket.”
DHS Secretary Johnson released a statement yesterday maintaining that the deportation raids will continue. But the rally and petition delivery are just one indication that the groundswell of opposition to the raids is only intensifying.
The policy of tearing families apart and sending asylum seekers (many of whom have received inadequate or no legal assistance in presenting their legitimate claims) back to the violence from which they fled makes no moral sense whatsoever and makes the administration’s actions infuriating.
But the fact that it also makes zero political sense makes the administration’s intransigence in doubling down on the raids downright perplexing.
At a time when President Obama’s administration is gearing up for a huge battle at the Supreme Court in defense of their executive actions on immigration, why would they take a huge step backwards by re-initiating deportation raids?