(WASHINGTON) — Dozens of protesters marched on Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters on Friday to call attention to the rate of deportations during Barack Obama’s presidency.
Jacinta Gonzalez, a lead organizer with the Congress of Laborers, joined about 50 other demonstrators — many facing deportation themselves — in a peaceful protest, urging the president to use his executive powers to end deportations.
“President Obama has been promising immigration reform but what he has given the people is actually record number of deportations and violations of their civil rights,” Gonzalez told ABC News. “We’re continuing to demand that he stop deportations. He has the power to do so, he has the moral authority that he should be doing this, and so that’s our core demand.”
Earlier this month, Obama reportedly ruled out taking executive action himself to overhaul the country’s immigration laws, particularly with regard to the enforcement of deportations.
Last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement booted almost 400,000 immigration violators out of the country, a number Gonzalez disputes as inaccurate.
“ICE is a rogue agency,” Gonzalez charged. “It’s been impossible to keep them accountable. They have been lying on their numbers, lying on their tactics, and we’re here to ask for justice.”
In FY2013, ICE reports that it conducted a total of 368,644 removals, 235,093 of whom were apprehended while, or shortly after, attempting to illegally enter the United States. The rest — 133,551 — were caught inside the nation’s borders.
Gonzalez and her fellow activists are particularly upset over the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative [CARI], a pilot program in New Orleans that was created by the Obama administration to apprehend undocumented immigrants with violent criminal records. ICE claims 60 percent of its deportations were conducted on individuals who had previously been convicted of a criminal offense.
“What the president has been doing is create a crisis and make it worse,” she said. “Instead of having a state of urgency, we now have a state of emergency where families are literally afraid to go to the store, literally afraid to go outside because they know that ICE agents are roaming the communities of New Orleans and Louisiana and the country at large.”
While prospects for comprehensive immigration reform are not bright, House Speaker John Boehner reiterated this week that he has not ruled out working on step-by-step reforms this year, telling a group of his constituents that Congress “has to deal” with the country’s broken immigration laws.
“I don’t know whether we’re going to get to it this year or not,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I think we should, but the appetite, the appetite amongst my colleagues for doing this is not real good.”
Boehner then mocked his Republican colleagues in the House, describing them as a whiny group, reluctant to take on the toughest legislative challenges.
“Here’s the attitude: ‘Ohh, don’t make me do this! Ohh, this is too hard!’ You should hear ‘em,” Boehner joked before a luncheon at Brown’s Run County Club in Madison Township, Ohio. “We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who worked on the bipartisan Gang of Eight’s comprehensive overhaul, tweeted that he was “encouraged” Boehner has not given up on action this year.
Democrats, meanwhile, called on Boehner to bring comprehensive immigration reform legislation to the floor for immediate consideration.
“The American people are calling for action, the business community is calling for action, and now, more and more House Republicans are calling for action,” Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., stated. “Speaker Boehner must stop listening to only the fringe elements of his party, and bring this bill up for a vote. We can’t wait another day.”
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