Next Immigration Battleground? The White House Lawn

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President Obama has already been dubbed “deporter-in-chief” by important allies in Washington who are frustrated over the lack of progress on immigration reform.


Now, critics are coming right to his doorstep.

Immigrant rights activists are staking out a space in Lafayette Square, the public park just north of the White House. They plan to protest there each day from now until the president takes action to grant relief to families struggling with deportations.

“It’s very important for the president to stop deportations, to grant relief to families who are currently in this country, to be able to stop the deportation machine right now,” said Erika Andiola, co-director for the DRM Action Coalition, which advocates for immigration reform.

“That’s why we’re here. To say to the president, ‘We are going to stay outside of your house, we’re going to stay outside of your door, your window until you stop the deportations,’” she added.

President Obama can’t pass an immigration reform bill. That’s up to Congress.

But while the Senate passed a large-scale, bipartisan immigration reform bill in June, Republicans in the House of Representatives are not keen to take up the issue this year.


With scant chance of legislative success, activists are redirecting their energy to President Obama, whose administration has executed roughly two million deportations over his tenure, a record pace.

The president supports immigration reform efforts in Congress, but that’s not enough in the eyes of immigrant rights groups.


Activists want Obama to extend a signature deportation relief program for young undocumented immigrants to a broader swath of families. On Saturday, groups across the country will mobilize against deportations, with a focus on the president.

“The first step to immigration reform is actually protecting the people who would qualify for immigration reform,” said Cesar Vargas, who heads the DRM Coalition with Andiola. “The bill that President Obama has supported, those are the same people that he’s deporting.”


The president has used his executive authority to grant deportation relief in the past. In June 2012, he rolled out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which lets undocumented young people who meet certain qualifications stay in the country legally and obtain a work permit.

More than half a million people have enrolled in that program. But that’s a small fraction of the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.


Naira Zapata can tell you that. She’s one of the initial protesters who will be spending her days across from the White House.

Zapata came to D.C. from Arizona, where her husband, Ardani Rosales, is being held by immigration authorities. He was deported to his native Guatemala in December, but is currently seeking asylum in the U.S. and stuck waiting in a detention center.


“Obama just makes promises,” she said on Thursday. “He just talks, but it’s not action.”

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.