Immigration reform activists are currently attempting to physically block a Fresno sheriff station by tying and locking themselves to a ladder, the latest in a series of civil disobedience protests aimed at forcing President Obama to take executive action against deportations.
“As the movement continues, we feel that if he’s not going to take action, that we’re going to take action in our hands and try to stop these deportations,” Alessandro Negrete, a spokesperson for California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, told Salon Monday. Along with Obama, the activists are targeting Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims, whom they’re urging to suspend collaboration with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “We demand she recognize that our families belong together,” protester Luis Ojeda told Salon in an e-mailed statement Monday morning. “It’s police and ICE that should be separated.”
Today’s action is the work of the “not1more” campaign, a national effort spearheaded by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. The campaign has mounted fourteen prior aggressive protests since September, yielding around one hundred arrests. Activists have blocked deportation buses in Tucson, San Francisco, Chicago and Fairfax; ICE offices in Phoenix, New Orleans, Atlanta and Philadelphia; and detention centers in Eloy, Adelanto and Elizabeth.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the federal Department of Homeland Security, did not provide comment in response to an early morning inquiry regarding past protests.
At issue is whether the Obama Administration could or should wield executive discretion to halt or curb deportations, which have reached a record 1.9 million since he entered office. As I’ve reported, labor and immigrant rights groups have urged Obama — faced with an uncertain future for federal immigration reform in the House — to go further than his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, announced in 2012, that has kept some younger immigrants in the country. Confronted last month by an activist saying he “has the power” to halt deportations, Obama answered, “Actually I don’t. And that’s why we’re here.” In September, Obama told Telemundo that if he expanded on DACA, “essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally.”
That hasn’t convinced critics, who counter that Obama also suggested that he lacked the legal discretion for DACA, before implementing it after protests. In September, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka compared immigrants deported while Congress mulls reform to soldiers killed after the armistice had been signed to end World War I. In October, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told Salon, “There are devastating effects if the Congress of the United States cannot enact comprehensive immigration reform,” and if so, “the President of the United States has the responsibility to act to defend those immigrants which he says he wants to provide safety and justice for.” This month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Univision “there is discretion in the law to the implementation, enforcement of the legislation that is calling for these deportations,” and that she had “seen deportations that were totally unjustified.”
While a official policy commits ICE to prioritize “the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeated immigration violators,” a September report from the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice — whose conclusions ICE disputed — found that “an undocumented foreign national with a traffic offense is more likely to be booked into ICE detention than one with a homicide forcible rape, robbery, or aggravated assault offense.”